These 14 Pioneering Women Collectors Are Re-Shaping the Art World

Change Agents: Women Collectors Shaping the Art World exhibit.

Gary Mamay
Change Agents: Women Collectors Shaping the Art World exhibit.
Change Agents: Women Collectors Shaping the Art World exhibit.

Learn What Inspires Their Noteworthy Collections

Courtesy of Christine Mack

Hammer Head Rage Machine Agony Machine Baptism by Vanessa German. From the collection of Christine Mack.

Many of the artists repurpose materials, transforming trash, computer parts, and other objects into works of art.

 

Like the women in the art world of the past such as collectors Isabella Stewart Gardner and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller who co-founded the Museum of Modern Art, today there are women collectors interested in championing and stewarding artists, building conversations around art, forming foundations, supporting art institutions, and insuring art is made available to the public.

Bringing this to bear is Change Agents: Women Collectors Shaping the Art World, an exhibition at the Southampton Arts Center (SAC) that showcases works from the collections of 14 pioneering women collectors who champion both established and emerging artists: Fusun Eczacibasi, Agnes Gund, Jane Holzer, Pamela Joyner, Roya Khadjavi, Emily Fisher Landau, Christine Mack, Elisa Nuyten, Lisa Perry, Holly Peterson, Beth Rudin DeWoody, Joy Simmons, Mickalene Thomas, and Neda Young. The exhibition was conceived by Simone Levinson, the co-chair of SAC.

courtesy of Fusun Eczacibasi

Ramazan Bayrakoglu, Yagmur/Rain, 2011. From the collection of Fusun Eczacibasi.

The exhibition showcases the remarkable vision and mission of these women collectors who are not only championing artists, but also challenging what constitutes contemporary art by focusing on artists of color, artists from diverse backgrounds, and artists who employ unusual materials in their work. The artists hail not only from the U.S. and Britain, but also from Poland, Korea, Turkey, South Africa, and the Caribbean.

Many of the artists repurpose materials, transforming trash, computer parts, and other objects into works of art. Vanessa German, American, created Hammer Head Rage Machine Agony Machine Baptism with bottle caps, croquet mallets, plastic toys, seashells, and fabric. The figure is from Christine Mack’s collection. Mack has also commissioned public art installations and is a member of the Collections Council Committee of the Guggenheim Museum and the Chairman’s Circle of the Studio Museum in Harlem, as well as being active in many other arts organizations.

Muffat Takadiwa from Zimbabwe creates sculpture and installations using recycled computer keyboards. From Beth Rudin DeWoody’s collection is Takadiwa’s Untitled, 2014. Also drawn from DeWoody’s collection is one of Nick Cave’s celebrated Soundsuits, which are made of wire, bugle beads, upholstery, and are designed to make noise when worn in motion. DeWoody is known as a voracious collector who champions both emerging and established artists—her collection boasts over 10,000 works according to ArtNews.

Robert Longo, Study of Copenhagen February 14, 2015, 2017.
Courtesy of Fusun Eczacibasi

Robert Longo, Study of Copenhagen February 14, 2015, 2017. From the collection of Fusun Eczacibasi.

Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2011.
Courtesy of Beth Rudin DeWoody

Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2011. From the collection of Beth Rudin DeWoody.

Left: Bruce Helander, Untitled Mask #1, 2020. Right: Michaela Yearwood-Dan, Paradise, 2022.
Courtesy of Jane Holzer and Christine Mack

Left: Bruce Helander, Untitled Mask #1, 2020. From the collection of Jane Holzer. Right: Michaela Yearwood-Dan, Paradise, 2022. From the collection of Christine Mack.

Angela Su, Stain Stitch, 2019.
Courtesy of Fusun Eczacibasi

Angela Su, Stain Stitch, 2019. From the collection of Fusun Eczacibasi.

Agnieszka Kurant, Post-fordite 3, 2019.
Courtesy of Fusun Eczacibasi

Agnieszka Kurant, Post-fordite 3, 2019. From the collection of Fusun Eczacibasi.

Left: Zanele Muholi, Kusile 111, 2002 Cartwright, Cape Town, 2019.  Right: Alexandra Navratil, All That Slides, Strikes, Rises and Falls, 2015.
Courtesy of Christine Mack and Fusun Eczacibasi

Left: Zanele Muholi, Kusile 111, 2002 Cartwright, Cape Town, 2019. From the collection of Christine Mack.  Right: Alexandra Navratil, All That Slides, Strikes, Rises and Falls, 2015. From the collection of Fusun Eczacibasi.

A longtime trustee of the Whitney Museum and a board member of the Hammer Museum in LA,
DeWoody opened her own exhibition space in 2017, The Bunker Art Space, which each year she
opens in December during Art Basel in Miami Beach. Another work from DeWoody’s collection is
Malaysian artist Anne Samat’s, Ocu (Family Warrior), a colorful wall hanging created with yarn,
washers, rakes, PVS chains, kitchen utensils and stationery.

 

Courtesy of the estate of Emily Fisher Landau

Yinka Shonibare, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (Africa),2008. From the collection of Candia Fisher.

“The exhibition is an opportunity to challenge the norm of what is being shown today in museums and galleries, beyond the traditional idea of modern art as oil on canvas.”

Folsade Ologundudu

The three curators of the exhibition are also an international crew. Kate Fowle is British; Xiaoyu Weng, Chinese, and Folsade Ologundudu was born in Brooklyn.

“As curators,” Ologundudu said, “we looked at ways art can be viewed through materiality, identity, gender, politics; representing international as well as intergenerational artists. Our point of view was on current times and its affect. The exhibition is an opportunity to challenge the norm of what is being shown today in museums and galleries, beyond the traditional idea of modern art as oil on canvas.”

Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu’s polished bronze goddess head titled Mwotaji (the dreamer), is
from Holly Peterson’s collection. “I am looking to collect work that is intellectually
challenging,” said Peterson. “But I don’t expect women artists of color to make a statement or claim an identity. The work can be beautiful, whimsical, inspiring. The placement of the art I buy creates a conversation that I find interesting. The work talks to one another.” At her residence in Manhattan, she hosts museum groups to view and talk about the work, their interplay, and the need to diversify.

The women in the SAC exhibition are interested in a mentor/mentee relationship rather than just acquiring work for its investment value. This shift in art-buying behavior is a critical one and much needed in an art world saturated with wealth.

“My main rule is that I don’t sell primary works,” said Peterson. “But I do buy primary works 100 percent of the time. Collectors often buy the artist’s pieces as first-time owners of coveted works that many other collectors are after and lost out on in a buying feeding frenzy. Then the new owner turns around two years later and sells for the picture for ten times what they bought it for. Many think this is a good thing for the artist and the gallery and the artist’s market in general. It is in fact risky and dangerous and thoughtless. Sure, a high-priced public sale of a primary work temporarily increases the publicly viewed pricing of an artist’s market. However, the price is superficial, because as more sellers get greedy and try to do the same, this can create a glut. All this quick selling off devalues the artist’s work and can destroy her market.”

The art world seems to be shifting more to a collaboration between collector and artist as evidenced by the women collectors represented in the SAC exhibition. This is an equitable and artistic exchange benefiting both, as well as those who want to have a piece of art in their home. It is important for the public not to be intimidated by modern art because of its inaccessibility, and the art speak used to talk about art. Art is important for everyone and shouldn’t be viewed as a luxury. We are grateful for collectors, like those in the SAC exhibition, who generously loan their private collections for the public to view and enjoy. We are also grateful for the vision of the curators and the inventive artists represented.

Great Collectors: Women Pioneers Shaping the Art World at the Southampton Arts Center is on view through September 30, 2023.

About the Author

Dian Parker

Dian Parker’s essays have been published in numerous literary journals and magazines. She ran White River Gallery in Vermont, curating twenty exhibits, and now writes about art and artists for various publications. She trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. To find out more, visit her website

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