Elizabeth Fazzare: How did you start putting together your own collection?
Chara Schreyer: My interest in art began early when I completed an MA in Art History at the University of California at Berkeley. When I met my first husband, we started collecting American Modernism from Georgia O’Keeffe and Arthur Dove to Joseph Stella. Later, when I was on my own, I worked with an advisor who I had a fantastic curatorial relationship with. We then purchased a number of seminal works from the 1990s, including an example by Marcel Duchamp Box-in-suitcase (1935-41) once owned by Andy Warhol (also part of the collection), a classic pile of the iconic Donald Judd and Robert Gober Plunge Basin Sink (1984), which overturns the Duchampian ready-made by recreating a lead-free sink appliance entirely by hand.
In a sense, everything in the collection derives from, around or in the work of Marcel Duchamp. Even Georgia O’Keeffe and Arthur Dove, two American modernist painters whom we would never have considered “Duchampians”, were friends and often showed together alongside Duchamp at the time. But it’s not just Duchamp’s contemporaries. The lineage stretches in all sorts of ways to Andy Warhol to the younger generation of artists from Kaari Upson to Glenn Ligon to Rirkrit Tiravanija.
EF: What was the first piece you bought?
CS: Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting Basin IV (front of basin) (1943). I had the good fortune to visit him in his studio in New Mexico many years ago before he passed away. What is interesting to see in the book that Douglas Fogle and Hanneke Skerath wrote on the collection (Do strange) is the visual conversation that a painter like O’Keeffe can have with someone like Duchamp. When one thinks of how art history works by putting everything in a locker, one forgets that O’Keeffe showed alongside Man Ray, Duchamp, and the more conceptual Dada and Surrealist-inspired modernists. They were all working at the same time and exploring new ways of seeing the world. They all belong together in messy conversation in the living room rather than being displayed in their own separate wings of a museum.
EF: Do you have a defining theme for your collection?
CS: There is no theme per se, but I have always said that the motivating factor in all my collections has always been a simple idea: I have always wanted to collect works by artists who have changed the course of art history. That said, there are sub-themes that the authors of to make strange have withdrawn from the collection that revolve around the idea of ”making strange” or how the collection has turned to paintings that challenge the nature of the medium. I have also spent many years building up a large body of photographic works by modernist masters and contemporary practitioners. And unwittingly or not, I also built a large group of strong female artists who changed the course of art history from Ruth Asawa and Louise Bourgeois to Eva Hesse, Hannah Wilkie and Alina Szaponikow. As with most of these artists, the body is always there too, whether in sculpture, photography or painting. And finally, each of my houses has a themed room organized around the idea of disaster from Andy Warhol to Glenn Ligon. As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, the potential for disaster is something that always concerns me.
EF: Which designers/artists inspire you at the moment?
CS: In the design world, I helped support an exhibition by BLESS designers a few years ago at Neutra VDL Studio and Residences here in Los Angeles (the architect’s former home, which is now a house museum) . BLESS is a design entity composed of two women who manufacture portable objects as well as objects to live in the house. They took over the house in an incredibly refreshing way. They will be the subject of a one-year residency project at the Kunstwerk in Berlin this year. I can’t wait to see what they will do!
EF: What are the current collectible trends on your radar, if any?
CS: I’m not sure I’m really aware of the trends as such. I’ve always looked at the full breadth of contemporary artistic activity when building my collection and kind of avoided trends (I think) trying to acquire works ahead of the curve of the market , consciously or not. I wouldn’t be able to acquire many core works in the collection today if I started from scratch.
EF: Does the marketplace help you discover?
CS: I don’t necessarily rely on art fairs as such because I’ve always worked on collecting with a strategy of things I might seek out while being open to new discoveries or opportunities to acquire works that could come out of nowhere. That said, galleries and art fairs will always be a place of discovery.
EF: In terms of discovering new artists/designers, what are your trusted methods?
CS: I look around a lot and have fantastic relationships with a number of trusted curators. And, of course, I see exhibitions!
EF: What’s the next piece on your radar?
CS: I’m not actively looking for one thing in particular right now. I became more interested in meeting up-and-coming artists with whom I could make an acquisition on behalf of some of the institutions I support.
EF: What’s the last piece you bought?
CS: Two of the latest pieces I recently purchased are a drawing by Jimmie Durham (who sadly passed away recently) and a photograph by a young LA-based artist named Buck Ellison. Buck has just been announced as one of the participating artists at the upcoming Whitney Biennial where he will present a recently completed film which I was happy to help support.
EF: What is the part that escaped?
CS: I was once lucky enough to acquire a Warhol Electric chair painting but failed in the end. But I don’t regret it at all.
Subscribe to the Cultural newsletter
Of course, we can be close friends. Unfiltered access awaits.