The empty walls of a new home can impart the same daunting yet exciting sense of possibility to an art collector as a blank canvas to an artist. When couple Adam and Iris Singer moved from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Paradise Valley, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix, in the mid-2000s, they felt both inspiration and dismay about where to start.
Over the past nearly 20 years, the Singers have gone from finding art fairs with advisors to building deep relationships with artists. Adam, an entrepreneur, now sits on the boards of institutions including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
The Singers are not limited to any particular style, medium or even period. “Iris and I never cataloged the collection trying to collect a uniform style,” Adam said. “I love that art has many styles and when displayed together they tend to speak to and complement each other.”
In October, the exhibition “In our time” S of Arizonathe cottsdale museum of contemporary art will take a focused look at 40 works by 27 contemporary artists from the African diaspora in the Singer collectiontion. The show includes works by Amoako Boafo, Mark Bradford, Jadé Fadojutimi, Derek Fordjour and Toyin Ojih Odutola.
We spoke with Adam Singer (@bakken oil) about the artwork that escaped and the treasure the couple would save from a fire.
What was your last art purchase?
Not sure which job would be considered newer because Iris and I bought two in the same week. But we are delighted to have purchased both a work by Derek Fordjour, Masons, magicians, showgirls and kings (2021), and that of Naudline Pierre Surely the sun will rise (2021-22).
What works or artists do you hope to add to your collection this year?
Iris and I usually have a wish list that we start at the start of each year. We were lucky enough to be able to tick off a few artists, but we have a few more to watch. Like many collectors, we would like to add a work by Calida Rawles or Michael Armitage to the collection, but it will be difficult as both artists are highly sought after and do not produce much work.
What is the most expensive work of art you own?
Iris and I have been lucky because many of our works have gone up in value. But since the market and tastes are constantly changing, it’s hard to say which job is the most expensive. We have our favorites and that doesn’t change. Iris loves our Yoshitomo Nara painting. I would have a hard time choosing which painting I would take if the house was on fire, but it would be between Mark Grotjahn and Mark Bradford.
Where do you most often buy art?
We tend to purchase most of our artwork directly from galleries. Although I like to go to art fairs for the social aspects and to discover new artists, it is not my favorite place to buy works. I think it’s important to see multiple examples of an artist’s work and, if possible, choose one of your favorites from a specific set of works. Of course, if you know the artist’s practice, an art fair can also be a good resource.
Is there a work you regret buying?
I wouldn’t say regret, but my wife tells a funny story about when I bought an artwork from a jpeg early in our early days of collecting. The artwork was beautiful but on closer inspection it turned out to have lots of sex scenes and body parts… As our three daughters were very young at the time, we decided to hang the work in our room. But that didn’t stop the conversations and curiosity of our girls and their friends.
What work have you hung in your bathroom?
In our master bathroom we have fantastic artwork by Vaughn Spann, Locked up (the gaze). But one of my favorite works is in our guest bathroom, a self-portrait of Franz Kline from 1945. I first saw the work in the show Abstract Expressionism at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. To my disbelief, the work came up for sale at an obscure auction about six months after the show ended, and I bought it. How fortunate to have explored the catalog of the auction and to have recognized the work!
What work would you have liked to buy when you had the opportunity?
Now, this question definitely opens up some wounds! There are two artists that come easily to mind, but there are many more. First, I’ve always wanted a pre-1965 solid red or black Alexander Calder mobile. I love how the mobiles move with perfect balance and cast shadows. The second artist is Christopher Wool. When we started our collection, I fell in love with his text paintings and was determined to buy one. I felt like I was the underbid for three consecutive auction cycles right before his market exploded. I was the underbidder for his text work Idiot (in blue) which became a centerpiece of his retrospective at the Guggenheim. I guess I was crazy that I hadn’t stretched myself more financially back then.
If you could steal one piece of art without getting caught, what would it be?
There are so many works that I fantasize about stealing! I will cite two of my best: blue boy by Thomas Gainsborough at the Huntington Library, and three flags by Jasper Johns at the Whitney Museum of American Art. But I would also love the opportunity to be a fly on the wall and just watch my favorite artist create work in his studio.
What does art represent for you?
For Iris and me, art gives life and character to our house. When people visit the collection, they get an idea of our tastes and can see who we are as collectors. We appreciate the aesthetic aspect of art and appreciate artists for their ability to create art. Personally, I don’t have an artistic bone in my body.
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