What I Buy and Why: Jeff Lawson Shows Us the Eclectic Works He’s Collected as the Founder of Untitled Art Fair in Miami
The 12th edition of Untitled Art will take place during Miami Art Week from December 6–10.
Despite its no-fuss name, Untitled Art Fair has stood out from other satellite fairs orbiting Art Basel Miami since its founding by Jeff Lawson in 2012. For one thing, Lawson envisioned it as a truly democratized, barrier-free platform for exhibiting and discovering contemporary art, bringing together a diverse coterie of international galleries and artists. For another, he has staked out a primo spot on South Beach from the get-go, with unbeatable views of the ocean.
Plus, in 2015, signaling Untitled’s arrival on the Miami art scene, Italian artists and satirists Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari decked out its guest lounge in audacious wall-to-wall carpeting featuring images from their biannual magazine Toiletpaper, scattering the space with pink soap bars for cushions and little gravestones for footrests.
It’s not hard to imagine the kind of eclectic collection Lawson has acquired along the way—a medley of contemporary names, mainly of the emerging sort and mostly purchased through galleries that have partnered with Untitled. These include works by Jonathan Baldock, Kadar Brock, Richard DuPont, Robert Gober, Nick Guanini, Sherie Hovsepian, Justine Kurland, Austin Lee, José Lerma, Thiago Martins de Melo, GT Pelizzi, Bjorn Roth, Stephen Thorpe, and John Wesley, among others.
We asked Lawson to show us around his collection—which he keeps in his Connecticut home that he shares with his wife, jewelry designer Michael Miller—before he heads down to Florida to set up the 12th edition of Untitled, which opens to VIPs on December 5 and which may be the most inclusive edition yet.
What was your first purchase?
My first purchase was a photograph by the American photographer Justine Kurland called Making Happy (1998). I bought the work from Bellwether Gallery in 1999/2000. I couldn’t afford it at the time and actually bought it on a payment plan, which took years to pay off. I often cite this experience as a useful argument that you don’t need to be rich to be a collector. That was an important realization for me, especially when it later came to establishing an art fair and making sure that we catered to a range of collectors and price points.
What was your most recent purchase?
The last work my wife Michael Miller and I purchased was a work by the artist Imi Knoebel, a German painter and sculptor known for his Minimalist Abstract art. We bought it from last year’s edition of Untitled Art from Galerie Christian Lethert, Cologne, Germany. Christian was showing Imi’s art as part of our special solo presentation at Untitled Art that focused on showcasing the older or under-appreciated artists.
Tell us about a favorite work in your collection.
It’s impossible to choose just one work! Since I started collecting, I’ve always wanted to own a work by John Wesley, a Pop artist with a unique voice, and we have a piece by the German artist Peter Dreher (who was actually Anselm Kiefer’s mentor) that I could stare at for hours—one of his glass paintings that features the same water glass painted thousands of times.
Is there a work you regret purchasing?
I wouldn’t say I “regret” purchases. Tastes change, styles change. There might be artists who are more relevant at particular moments in time.
What is the most valuable work of art that you own?
This depends on how you want to define “value.” I have an edition Esopus of a Robert Gober titled Hope Hill Road (2012) that I see everyone morning as it is near my bed. I also have a Peter Dreher painting on the way into my kitchen that I see every morning as I go to make coffee. Each of the works helps to frame my day. This to me is of great value.
Where do you buy art most frequently?
Having founded Untitled Art in 2012, we have almost exclusively built our collection from the artists and galleries that have exhibited at the fair over the years.
Which works or artists are you hoping to add to your collection this year?
I am always on the lookout. That’s what I love about art fairs, which offer a sense of discovery and the opportunity to just happen upon a new artist or a new work. I am really looking forward to seeing Alicia Reyes McNamara, who will be showing with Niru Ratman this year.
What work do you have hanging above your sofa?
We currently have a blue, color field painting titled In Absentia (2016) by Wanda Koop hanging above our sofa. It’s an abstract blue canvas that also looks like a cityscape. What I love about the work is that you can just absolutely get lost in it. We bought it from Night Gallery at an edition of Untitled Art in San Francisco.
What is the most impractical work of art you own?
I don’t really have any work that is impractical. I guess that makes me a bit boring.
What work do you wish you had bought when you had the chance?
Where to start! Certainly Jeffrey Gibson. I first came across Jeffrey’s work at the first edition of Untitled Art 2012. It was one of Jeffrey’s punching bags and because it was the year I started the fair, I was basically upside down financially. For me, that’s why art fairs are so important as you can discover new, emerging, and mid-career artists.
If you could steal one work of art without getting caught, what would it be?
That’s easy. Any Bruce Nauman. He is one of my favorite artists!
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