Excerpt: How an Epiphany About Junk Mail Led Collector Marguerite Hoffman to Commission a Quietly Epic Art Experience From Ragnar Kjartansson

Read an excerpt from our subscribers-only interview with the famed collector.

Marguerite Hoffman. Photo Credit: David Needleman

Over the past 35 years, Marguerite Hoffman has assembled one of the most muscular, dynamic, and distinct art collections in the United States. In an in-depth interview conducted by Artnet News executive editor Julia Halperin, the Dallas-based art historian, philanthropist, and investor tells us about her rules of engagement, the art dispute that sent her and her late husband to couple’s therapy, and why she began buying Medieval manuscripts.

Below, find an excerpt from the discussion about her unusual commission of the Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson. The interview is available in full for Artnet News Pro subscribers.

Amor Mundi: The Collection of Marguerite Steed Hoffman. Courtesy of Ridinghouse. Photo: Lewis Ronald.

Can you tell us about the letter project you commissioned from Ragnar Kjartansson? 

I met Ragnar for the first time during the Venice Biennale, when he was doing the Icelandic Pavilion, this durational thing where he paints his friend every day in a Speedo bathing suit. His whole family is there cooking. It felt like such a cocoon, such a safe place of warmth and hospitality and creativity. And I just wanted to hang around him. So I would bike there almost every day. I think he probably thought I was some loon.

I remained good friends with Roland Augustine and Lawrence [Luhring], who represented him. We got together when I was in New York. And we were talking one night and I said, “You know what the dreariest part of my life is? Opening the mail. I hate opening the mail. It’s either a bill or somebody’s asking for money. Nobody’s writing you a love letter anymore. Nobody’s telling you anything new about themselves or asking how you are.” And Ragnar really needed some money. I had seen that he’d already done some of these watercolor postcards for Lawrence and Roland. I said, “I want one.” The commission was really interesting. I said, “What if I commissioned you to send me postcards—you can send me one, or you can send me 365, it’s up to you.” 

Ragnar Kjartansson, Correspondence (2010-11), [detail]. Courtesy of Marguerite Steed Hoffman.

Ragnar Kjartansson, Correspondence (2010-11), [detail]. Courtesy of Marguerite Steed Hoffman.

Did you decide on the price before or after you decided how many?

Before. I started running home to see what the mail was. He was so open and shared with me so many things in those postcards—little phrases and heartbreaking or hysterical images. He told me about his divorce, when his baby was born, when he fell in love again. I thought, I don’t really even know you. And yet, it was such an intimate correspondence—it’s still my favorite art experience of all time. I cried when it was over. 

So he did one every day?

Almost—I think there are 300 and something. I’d tell the gallery these are the most precious things. I think he knows it. And I’ve gone on to collect almost every one of his media pieces even though I can’t show them. 

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