Art-World Insiders Share Their Most Cherished Holiday Traditions, From Matching Pajamas to Crafting Artsy Ornaments

Alex Prager, Jane Kallir, Benjamin Godsill, and others share their favorite holiday traditions.

Benjamin Godsill and family in their matching holiday PJs.

The end of year always beckons cheer—after all, we survived another one (and we don’t mean that lightly this year). But even as times are uncertain and grim, we wondered what our fellow art-world brethren will be getting up to during the holidays to spread joy and mark the passage of time.

We reached out across the industry to discover the most beloved holiday rituals of some of our favorite advisors, artists. See their highlights below!

 

Alex Prager,
Artist 

Alex and Vanessa Prager. Photo by Geoff Moore. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London.

My sister Vanessa and I always spend Thanksgiving and Christmas together in California. We are both avid cooks so usually for Thanksgiving we’ll switch off hosting 20 or more friends at our houses with a massive feast. We cook for days leading up to the holidays, making everything from scratch. Besides food, we make ornaments for the tree. Last year we upgraded to little ceramic stars and trees that we fired in our mother’s kiln. We’ve also made crocheted figures, 3-D prints and papier-mâché. And of course paintings and photographs of different family members.

 

Lisa Le Feuvre,
Executive Director of the Holt Smithson Foundation

Nancy Holt’s recipe books from the Holt/Smithson Foundation’s library. Lisa Le Feuvre notes that the unexpected guest should not expect these dishes.

Already my sprightly 102-year-old grandmother has been reminding me of an essential holiday tradition that she assures me is standard practice in Guernsey, the small island we are from. She insists that in the last week of the old year and in the first week of the new year a place at dinner must be set for the unexpected guest. I diligently follow the rules, but the truth is that always I set two places. In the holiday season I am convinced that the unexpected guest is always going to turn up, so you need to play it safe and be ready for the real unexpected one.

 

Jane Kallir,
Director of the Kallir Research Institute 

Maria Dolnytska ornament.

My grandparents Otto and Fanny Kallir fled Austria after the Nazi Anschluss and arrived in New York in September 1939. They brought with them many “old world” holiday traditions. My grandmother would begin baking Christmas cookies in early December—a practice my sister, Barbara, continues today in her California home. As kids, Barbara and I helped with the baking and the making of holiday ornaments. But the most precious ornaments were those that survived the trip from Austria, including enamel figures made by the artist Maria Dolnytska, who had been represented by my grandfather’s Vienna gallery. Like most Austrians, we celebrated on Christmas Eve, Barbara and I waiting in the hallway of our grandparents’ Riverside Drive apartment until everything was ready. Then we were summoned into the living room, and there it was: a huge tree with real lit candles. (My husband, many years later, would be horrified by this part of the tradition, but the smell of candle wax has always for me been synonymous with celebration.)

 

Alexandra Fairweather,
Director of the John Chamberlain Estate

On Christmas Day, our holiday tradition is to take a family photo in front of a 200-year-old tree on one of our properties on Shelter Island. Most years, there are 20 to 30 people and a bunch of us will sit up high in the tree branches. Last year, it was freezing and the world was still in lockdown, so we were the only ones that showed up, but we had to keep the tradition going nevertheless. We are hoping for more of a crowd this year. 

James Barron,
Art Dealer

Sidival Fila, a Franciscan monk and artist who lives in a monastery in the Roman forum after his midnight mass. He gives his profits to impoverished children in school.

I do a a midnight mass crawl in Rome. I start early and go into 2:30 or 3 a.m. I know the start times. I also go to Sidival Fila’s midnight mass, which is at 11:30 p.m., and have prosecco in his monastery after. It is my favorite night of the year. The streets are empty. The sounds of families eating inside homes. Then I wake up early, bike to my favorite churches for Christmas days morning services; bike to the Vatican. It is magical for me to be inside the churches and see the art, sometimes by candlelight.

 

Benjamin Godsill,
Curator and Art Advisor


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