Collecting in the art world is very much about price and return on investment. But work is now more accessible than ever, with many entry points and reasons to buy beyond the bottom line. For the three Torontonians featured here, Michelle Koerner, An Te Liu and Mia Nielsen, the way they acquire, organize and live with their works is deeply individual.
“It’s aesthetic,” says Koerner, explaining why she’s drawn to certain works of art. “Although I am very happy when there is a theme close to my heart.” Over time, Liu has layered materials, objects, and artworks (her own and others) into “paintings and still lifes” that capture her personal story. “For me, it’s like growing up,” he says. Nielsen, meanwhile, advises new collectors not to seek out this large painting to go above the couch. “I promise you you don’t need it,” she said. Instead, she practices a form of curation that captures the chance of a find.
Rather than filling space, these collectors make statements.
THE ART INCUBATOR
Mia Nielsen is a curator and cultural programmer for The Drake, a Canadian design institution with boutique hotels in Toronto and Wellington, Ontario, restaurants and a recently reopened performance hall. She calls what she does visual storytelling, sharing sensory ideas about what it means to be situated here and now, presented in a space where “literally everyone is welcome,” she says.
But the stories she tells aren’t limited to The Drake’s many properties, including a new inn in Prince Edward County, Ontario, which will open this summer. They begin in her home in Toronto’s Seaton Village, where she experiments with objects and ideas in space. “I consider it almost like a studio. And that always changes,” she says. “If I get up on a Sunday morning and I don’t have anything planned that day, I’ll start moving things around. It’s the most beautiful day of my life.
Nielsen gravitates towards smaller-scale, ephemeral, atypical or even non-artistic works of art such as textiles, photographs, jewellery, books, Danish krone coins or watercolor blotting paper from the Victoria-based artist Rick Leong, and makes sure to organize the pieces in a meaningful way. decals on walls and table tops. It’s in the combination of things – how they relate to each other and why – that the stories crafted in the mind of Nielsen find their articulation. “Anything on a wall can reflect or refract light – it can be that basic,” she says. In her living room, a hand drawing by Rebecca Ladds, placed on the wall to cast a shadow, is paired with a lantern slide, a splash of light crystal and a Corey Moranis lucite necklace. “There is something luminous about each of them.”
Favorite Room: Homeowners Design Home in Toronto to Minimize Environmental Footprint
Favorite piece: How to cultivate an art collection – even if you’re a first-time buyer
Favorite Bedroom: How a Toronto Attic Looked Like Narnia
A leader in Canadian art, Michelle Koerner sits on the boards of the National Gallery of Canada Foundation and the Art Canada Institute. “I’m an advocate for women in the arts,” she says, explaining the impetus for another project, the Women’s Art Initiative, a multi-year fund to support exhibitions and publications by women artists. Three years ago, Koerner pitched the idea to Stephan Jost, the new CEO of the Art Gallery of Ontario. “He was very enthusiastic and immediately accepted,” she says. Koerner’s broader ambition, beyond creating a community of women supporting other women, is to achieve parity in the global AGO collection. “It’s a noble but important goal,” she says.
In her own home in the city’s Rosedale neighborhood, Koerner says she “gravites and collects works of art by remarkable women.” Montreal photographer Jessica Eaton created her series Cubes for Albers and LeWitt using geometric shapes, gels and multiple exposures. “His work is very abstract and colorful, and the process is fascinating,” says Koerner. She discovered the work of Zanele Muholi, a self-identified South African “visual activist” for LGBTQI rights, at the Ryerson Image Center in 2014. “It was one of those artistic moments that stays with you,” says Koerner of his chance meeting with the exhibition Faces and Phases of Muholi.
by Rebecca Belmore Madonna, featuring the artist wrapped in kraft paper and cradling driftwood, also hangs on Koerner’s wall. The Anishinaabe multimedia artist’s 2018 retrospective at the AGO is now on view at Remai Modern in Saskatoon. Koerner without hesitation calls Belmore “one of the most important artists working in Canada today.”
The house of the artist An Te Liu previously served as a studio. But since his practice shifted to sculpture, largely in bronze, ceramic and concrete, he moved his artistic creation to a dedicated workspace nearby. Although it retains a few artist’s proofs (or off series) in the Kensington Market loft, he admits the space is “more domestic now, a bit like a living room and for entertaining,” he says. “And I use it a lot to exhibit works.”
These works run the gamut from artifacts to friend art to the students he teaches at the University of Toronto, as well as other pieces he has acquired along the way. “There’s a lot of personal history in almost everything here, whether by me or someone else, whether it’s art, furniture, or decorative art,” he says. “There is a lineage, like a residue of certain passages in my life.” By keeping these objects nearby, like touchstones, he remembers things that are important to him.
Family photographs of her great-grandfather, a land prospector, and her grandfather, an academic who studied divinity and founded Christian churches in heavily Buddhist Taiwan, hang on the walls. A graphite drawing of pages from an art history textbook and a painted cover by Claude Lévi-Strauss wild spirit, both by Roula Partheniou, remind Liu of his time as a student of art history and architecture. A chromogenic print of colliding particles, made by German artist Thomas Ruff, belies an interest in theoretical physics and “the secret life of our physical world”, says Liu. He got it after selling two of his own works. “Sell a coin, buy a coin,” he says.
Photograph by Rodrigo Daguerre. Styling by Cynthia Florek.