Salon Art & Design Director Jill Bokor Embraces Outsider Art and Calls Her Berkshires Home a ‘Blank Canvas’ for Her Collection
We asked the director of New York's Salon Art + Design fair what she values in art and life.
So much of the art world orbits around questions of value, not only in terms of appraisals and price tags, but also: What is worthy of your time in these times, as well as your energy, your attention, and yes, your hard-earned cash?
What is the math that you do to determine something’s meaning and worth? What moves you? What enriches your life? In this new series, we’re asking individuals from the art world and beyond about the valuations that they make at a personal level.
Jill Bokor is a born and bred New Yorker—with the style and wit to prove it. She is also an icon of the city’s art world and has spent over 30 years in the cultural sphere—working across art, design, and philanthropy. A living lexicon of the city’s cultural history, Bokor proudly counts numerous gallerists, designers, and collectors as her closest friends.
Today, the executive director of the Salon Art & Design, Bokor brings her characteristic acuity and eye for style to the highly anticipated annual art and design fair hosted at the Park Avenue Armory. Now in its 12th edition, this year’s Salon Art & Design (November 10–13, preview November 9) will include special design exhibitions hosted within the venue’s historic rooms on the entry floor.
Bokor’s passion for the arts crosses into her personal life, too, and she is the owner of a dazzling design collection of 19th-century to 21st-century objects with a special focus on Outsider art. On weekends, Bokor treasures time with her beloved pooch, William, a mini-Aussie Shepherd, and loves to fill her home with vases of pink peonies.
Ahead of the fair, we sat down with Bokor to discover what she values in art and life—and why.
What is the last thing that you splurged on?
Liberty fabrics and a Biedermeier dining table. I recently bought a house in the Berkshires. It’s a 1989 structure, somewhat loft-like and airy and best of all very much a blank canvas for both vintage and contemporary art and design.
What would you buy if you found $100?
Peonies. The bright, pinky coral ones.
What makes you feel like a million bucks?
My career. I have been incredibly blessed to spend the last 40 years looking at art and design on a daily basis. Having worked at an auction house, run art and design publications, owned a gallery, and finally created Salon Art + Design, I have pinched myself over the years to realize my days have been spent touching, examining, and viewing works of great beauty and accomplishment, and getting paid for it!
What do you think is your greatest asset?
Empathy. I was always the kid who brought home wounded animals. Something I try never to lose sight of is the beingness and feelings of others whether it’s a petulant child or an artist who is struggling to find his/her/their voice. It also reminds me that without the dark there can be no stars.
What do you most value in a work of art?
History, intimacy, and engagement. The works I am attracted to tend to be contextual and very personal.
Who is an emerging artist worthy of everyone’s attention?
Stefan Kurten. He is actually a mid-career artist who paints idylls of midcentury scenes, houses, and interiors. Born in postwar Germany, the works are, on the surface, dreams of peace and perfection. The structures are all classically mid-century, but most don’t exist. He told me that when he was young, he and his family would drive all around looking at architecture and that he always kept these scapes in his mind. They are domestic and tranquil or full of gnarled trees, cacti, bushes, and brambles, juxtaposing perfect order and potential chaos. Beauty and order are paired with a hint of something darker and his palettes frequently suggest the coming of a storm or disturbance.
Who is an overlooked artist who hasn’t yet gotten their due?
Helen Torr was better known for her marriage to Arthur Dove than for her own career as an artist. Stieglitz showed her work in the early 1930s. After that she was occasionally part of a group show. I first saw her work at Graham Gallery In the ’80s and was very taken with it. The work is an exemplar of early Modernism and, though her paintings are in collections like the Met, the BFA, and the Philips, she never became part of the canon of American Modernism.
What, in your estimation, is the most overrated thing in the art world?
NFTs. Maybe it’s very old-school and a non-courant way to love art, but for me, art on pixels disallows the use of all of our senses.
What is your most treasured possession?
Aside from my son, Luc, and my mini Aussie Shepherd, William, it would be my grandfather’s cufflink box. It’s made of old tooled leather from the 1920s, with his initials on top. It has traveled with me to every home I’ve ever lived in, so it’s resided in many many places.
What’s been your best investment?
The work of the Outsider artist James Castle. His work was shown at the Outsider Art Fair in the late eighties. The soot and spit drawings of rural America (he was from Idaho and lived there most of his life), his drawings of interiors, farm scenes, houses, and barns spoke to me of intimacy and engagement. Castle was deaf and probably illiterate and is a wonderful reminder of what can be achieved even without the full use of one’s senses. The detail in the works; pieces of furniture, wallpaper, household knick-knacks, on such a tiny scale forces the viewer to look closely, reminding him/her/they how miraculous tiny prosaic things can be. I bought a few of them for $350 in 1987.
What is something small that means the world to you?
It would have to be a little carved wooden pig with wings by an anonymous Outsider artist with the legend “sometimes pigs really do fly.”
What’s not worth the hype?
Commodification. When I started in the art world in the ’80s, Impressionism was all the rage. Names became more important than the works themselves and people were paying large prices to be able to say they had a (fill in the artist) in their collection, even if it was an inferior work. I do think that collectors have become more discerning, but the issue of breaking records at auction certainly exists more than ever. Whenever I have been asked about the potential value of a work of art I would respond “don’t buy it if you don’t love it.’
What do you believe is a worthy cause?
Taking each and every possible measure to ensure that Donald Trump does not become president again.
What do you aspire to?
Balance and discipline. I’m studying to be a dog trainer.
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