April 26th, 2019

At our Park City gallery, we currently have the privilege of working with a collector whose brand new home is a showcase for exceptional artwork. From a top South Carolina architecture firm, the design is open, contemporary, and incredibly inspiring. When I ran across this article on Artspace, I knew I had to share it with our readers for our educational benefit. I hope that you enjoy the interview as much as I did. It’s edited for space, so click here to see the entire interview.


From Artspace: The architect Lee Skolnick is hotly pursued by some of today’s biggest collectors and most acclaimed artists, largely for a simple reason: he designs buildings that are expressly tailored to the ideal display of art. Many of his projects can be found along the breezy shores of Long Island, where he is a part of an entrenched art scene that stretches back to the days of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. Among his clients are the artist power-couplesEric Fischl and April Gornik and Susan Rothenberg and Bruce Nauman.

Lately, Skolnick—who has also designed more than 60 museum spaces around the world—has been working on a beach home for one of America’s top collecting couples, both building the residence and helping them build their collection. It’s a rarefied process that has entailed traveling with the couple to art fairs, with an interior designer and art advisor in tow.

To find out more about what goes into the perfect setting for a major art collection, Artspace editor-in-chief Andrew M. Goldstein spoke to Skolnick about what art should do in a space, what drives him crazy about other people’s houses, and why artists tend to have the messiest collections.

Tell me about your latest project.

We recently designed a new house for a couple who are art collectors. In particular, they wanted to develop a new art collection and asked us to design a house that would allow them to do that—without knowing what the art was yet, because the architecture itself would help guide them in collecting and then displaying the art. So we have designed the house, and I’ve in fact been spending time with them looking at art and advising them on what would work in the house in terms of size, scale, medium, and their own personal taste. We’ve pretty much filled the house, although there are still a few locations that haven’t been filled.

What can you tell us about these collectors?

I probably shouldn’t say who the collectors are, but I can say that it’s a large modern beach house on Long Island. A lot of my design work deals with narrative and each project having its own story. With this client, we agreed early on that the story of this house is about sky, sea, storm, sun, and sand. It was the embodiment of the environment that it was going to be in, taking all of its cues from the natural characteristics of the area and the ocean. Anything that we did, it had to be thematic—as in, we’re going to deal with Turner because he deals with the sea.

We wanted it to be a very calming environment, a very zen environment. It’s not active, there’s no ornamentation, there aren’t a million different materials shouting out at you. It’s very restrained and the tonality is the soft white and sandy shades that suffuse the entire space. It’s a great backdrop for art, and that was part of the idea—that along with the views of the landscape, the art would be the star of the show. There are ways to design and decorate, where the art is just one of many textures, colors, and patterns—sort of a Victorian sensibility—and this is the antithesis of that.

How did you work with the art advisor? What was the back-and-forth there?

Well, we had pretty much designed the house before the art advisor was brought in. So, I gave her a deep immersion into what the house was about, what we’re trying to achieve, and what the spaces were going to be like, and the couple had made it very clear to her which areas of art they were interested in. All of that preceded looking around for works. It was a completely synchronistic relationship—she was on the right wavelength from the very beginning, and we never got into a situation where she wanted to buy something that I thought was horrible or wrong for the space. Everything she showed us had potential, although that doesn’t imply that we got everything that she showed us.

A computer rendering of view of the fireplace with Thor Vigfusson’s Untitled (2010), available on Artspace

How do you incorporate furniture into the setting? Do you choose the furniture first or the art first? 

In this case we worked with an interior designer who was very good, and we picked him particularly because we really didn’t want the furnishings to be the focus. This is a balance that you have to decide on early in the process and then stick to. Because you can decide that the artwork will be the backdrop, and the main element will be incredible pieces of furniture arranged either in a matching decorator thing or as individual masterpieces. In our case, we said, no, we’re not doing matching pieces of furniture—we’re doing really elegant, simple, contemporary furnishings in terms of color and material palettes so it plays a supporting role to the views, the space, and the art.

When it comes to positioning artworks in one of your homes, are there any rules of thumb that you follow?

I really get off on working with clients directly, so I don’t have a lot of rules that I want to impose. We work with some clients who are interested in incredibly heterogeneous collections where everything has its own atmosphere and they don’t mind jumbling and mixing it all up. It becomes about how you want to draw people through the space. There are dynamic spaces that you move through quickly, and there are static spaces where you’re meant to spend time. Some things lend themselves to being breezed by quickly and you get a high impact  by passing them millions of times—they gain a certain brightness. Other pieces are totally in-your-face and compress you.

So I don’t have a particular formula—with every project I start over and look at what the situation is: Who are the people, what is their life like, what are their interests? The art falls into the narrative of the project, and that makes it much easier to look at artwork and immediately say, ”It may be a Rembrandt, it may be a Jackson Pollock, and that’s great, but it’s not for this place.”

What about beginner’s fumbles, like placing a photograph by a window?

Those are just no-nos. You want to say, “I hope you don’t like that photograph, because it’s not going to exist in a year.” There are also more arcane things, like the fact that blue pigment, particularly in prints, can fade much more quickly than other colors—which anyone who has ever owned a blue car will tell you. But at the same time, you can get treatments for windows or devices that filter out a lot of light, like shades that are set to timers that can be programmed for different times of the year. A lot of museums have timers so that when the sun is low at 4 o’clock and about to start streaming through windows, the shades go down. You can also coat glass properly so that it filters out UVs and harsh wavelengths of light. A lot of people don’t do that, and if they have really important art, they’ve made a serious mistake.

How do artists live with artworks differently than collectors do?

My experience with artists is that they know a lot of other artists, so they wind up with collections that are either gifts or trades with friends of theirs who are not necessarily working in the same medium or genre but who move in the same circles. An artist’s home can often be very eclectic. They accumulate so much art over time, and what I’ve found really frustrating at times is that they just don’t know when to stop. Basically, there’s more and more stuff everywhere. It all has meaning for them, and it’s their home, but it’s very different from how they would want their own works displayed. When they have a show, they want perfectly composed galleries with breathing space around each of their pieces so that they can be appreciated. But then in their homes, they may just pile stuff everywhere.