Connecting: Collectors with Pavan Segal

1. How has spending more time at home during the lockdown changed your relationship with or understanding of your collection/ an artwork that you own?

In a few ways. Not so much with particular works, but thinking about my art collection in general. When you’re deprived of what’s normal, like we are now, one thing that comes up in conversation with my wife and friends is what we miss the most.

This situation has made me think more about this ‘missable’ quality. If there were only certain things I could have and a lot of other things I couldn’t have, what would I gravitate towards and why? This makes me think about art and collecting in terms of artists who I already really love. If limited, what do I gravitate towards and why? I am focusing on practice and placing more value on growing appreciation for bodies of work. I’ve never been in a position where I could collect everything I want, but I could always appreciate whatever I want and there’s no limit to that, right? You can appreciate anything you want and no one can stop you. It’s a privilege anyone can enjoy. In a way, the distinction between collector or not becomes irrelevant. If you love art, you love art; there are no boundaries to appreciation.

This period has made me ask questions about the art I really believe in. This could be different for somebody else, but I only want to focus on acquiring works and developing relationships with artists who are really important and meaningful to me.

2. Where are you looking to find new artists/artwork?

I’m not accessing art through technology. Maybe that’s a bad answer, but I access art through the relationships and dialogues I always have.

When I think about art, it’s not about trends or the art market. I try to scrutinise it. Over the years I’ve done 200-300 studio visits and keep up with hundreds of artists. I’ve built strong relationships with many people at major galleries, because I think that they appreciate how deeply I care about art.

I let the interests I’ve developed guide me. There is a finite number of artists who I had been looking at deeply prior to Covid. Particularly historical bodies of work by artists who I think are really important. I’m digging into pockets or areas of practice that I perhaps didn’t initially understand, often that were a moment of departure or an evolution to something new. Mainly I explore that either through reading or looking at images. I also rely on friends at galleries who communicate to artists on my behalf, and then we have a dialogue that way about what’s available.

I carve out time to talk to artists, curators and definitely gallerists who I have close relationships with, who I know will bring new works to the fore. The truth is that there are a lot of people at every gallery who seriously know what they’re talking about. We’ll have a long discussion about it over email and whether that’s a work I will acquire or not,there’s definitely still a lot of value in the discussion because it’s about art and it’s so enlightening.

3. What artist(s) are you most excited about right now?

Adrian Piper is definitely high up there. Mike Kelley. Lorna Simpson is really incredible, a very

important yet underrated artist. Cady Noland is massively influential and ahead of her time. She’s perfect at editing: her objects are very compelling and draw from a lot of different things that were going on when they were made.

Painting-wise, Charline von Heyl, along with Amy Sillman, because they run this mix of abstract and figurative and have evolved their own painterly language over a long time. I find it fascinating to track the longevity of an artist’s career through how masterful they’ve become of what probably at some point probably looked like something different but that over time has become familiar.

Martin Puryear is often left out of the conversation around the lack of representation of People of Colour in visual art. The way he works with sculpture makes an important commentary on race from a more historical place. They’re not the most obvious and straightforward references, but there’s certainly an essential place for him in current dialogues. I would say that he’s one of the top 20 most important artists in the history of the United States.

The sincerity of his work really reminds me of another artist I’ve been looking at for the last three or four years: Rosemarie Trockel. As much as Rosemarie Trockel is loved and acknowledged as the ultimate artist’s artist, I think she’s also underrated historically. She’s the perfect example of someone who can work across different mediums fluidly and cohesively. I have yet to see a work by Rosemarie Trockel that didn’t have the perfect temperature. It’s the perfect balance… it is ‘art. Whether you’re drawn to what it’s about, or to the materials, you can’t deny that what you see is beautiful, compelling, memorable and very interesting. But she’s been doing that no matter what anyone else has been doing, over a long period of time.

I’d add to this list Josh Smith. I’d almost say I used to have an active dislike for his works. Now I’m an avid collector of his paintings. It’s hard to add to the conversation of painting in my estimation. You see lots of painting that’s stylistically compelling, but Smith is pushing forward the conversation about what painting is about. He’s taking these motifs, removing them from content and personal narrative, and mining them to the most extreme maximal ceiling where it can’t be taken any further. Then he moves on to something else. The motif serves only as a vehicle and the focus ultimately is left on the quintessential process of painting. His practice is fascinating to me because he creates such a large volume of paintings, but his entire practice is actually quite reductive in nature.

I would put Tomma Abts in that conversation too. It might sound weird but, I think she’s an outside painter. She has her own little pocket in art history and again, similarly to Trockel, the paintings are undeniable. It’s memorable, it’s different, it’s very calculated, it’s very particular. But she’s been doing that no matter what anyone else has been doing, over a long period of time. It seems uninfluenced by what anyone else is doing, it’s hers.

4. Has this period impacted on the way you might collect in the future? If so how?

I don’t think so.. I would probably just place more of a value on collecting artists based on how much I love their practices and instead of individual works. I think that over time that’s the one thing that has changed for me: appreciating the vision. Glen Ligon, for example, has produced many bodies of work, but there’s an overarching theme that everything fits into, and everything built from that is a further exploration of that fundamental idea. For me, this sums up what I equate with quality and what defines a serious artist. It always comes back to the central impetus for the work; where it is coming from and going to.

I’m not a business person in the classical sense, so I don’t think this period will necessarily limit me. I’ll continue to collect works, but it will only be really great works by artists who I really believe in, not because of market longevity or anything like that, but because I one day want my kids to have artwork in their house from our collection and to say that’s an artist I can talk about, think about, learn about, and feel excited about forever. The same way we feel about having those works now.

5. What do you feel needs to happen now for the visual arts to weather this storm?

Tough Question. Honestly, there are so many people right now that are destitute and can’t even eat that some of my focus will be on charities that deal with these urgent issues.

I don't know that in times of crisis, people who have money buy up all of the resources and there will be more disparity. I don’t have a crystal ball, but those people also love art.

For me personally, from a collector’s standpoint, we need to ‘continue’. Continue to buy art that’s meaningful, continue to have dialogues, continue to make people believe in art, even if just through conversation. Also, continue to support artists through giving them confidence, talking about ideas and encouraging them to keep making their art. Gallerists should continue working as hard as they have; the institutions continue using this time to make compelling future exhibitions that push the conversation and the meaning of art further.

I think the last thing we should do in this moment is live in fear and be complacent. We should use this time to create more community and more opportunity because this is going to pass. If we’re going to just sit here, stuck, and then return as if this was a black hole in time, it would have been a waste.

We love art, I believe art is going to be back stronger than ever and I just want to be a part of that in the same way I was before.


1. Pavan Segal

2. Cady Noland, 'This Piece Has No Title Yet', 1989

3. Lorna Simpson, 'Then and Now', 2016 (courtesy Salon 94, Tate)⠀

4. Installation view of “Charline von Heyl: Snake Eyes, 2018–19, at Hirshhorn Museum

5. Martin Puryear, “Maquette for Big Bling,” 2014, Courtesy of the artist, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery. (Photograph Jamie Stukenberg, Professional Graphics)⠀

6. Josh Smith, Name, 2019. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner.⠀

7. Rosemarie Trockel, 'Cluster – One Eye Too Many,' 2018. Installation view, Moderna Museet Malmö, 2018. Photo: Helene Toresdotter/Moderna Museet.⠀

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