What I Buy and Why: Hotelier Lena Evstafieva on Why She Buys the Work of Emerging Female Artists—and Almost Never Sells

The co-founder of the Villa Lena Foundation has no regrets in her art collecting journey.

Hotelier and non-profit founder Lena Evstafieva, pictured with Valerie Snobeck's Revolving Layers (Tongue Kissing) (2014). Image by Levgeniia Pavlenko.

Lena Evstafieva may have made a professional leap when she decided to set up the hotel that became Villa Lena in 2013, with musician and producer husband Jérôme Hadey, and Parisian restaurateur and nightclub owner Lionel Bensemoun. But the project has become more than just a plan to redevelop the property in Tuscany, and Evstafieva has hardly left the art world.

The former curator at Garage in Moscow and director of Pace Gallery in London is also running the Villa Lena Foundation, a non-for-profit organization that offers an artist residency and support artists from around the world working in a range of media, from visual art, music, and film, to literature, fashion, and interdisciplinary practices. The foundation is supported by an advisory board which includes Wu Tang Clan rapper RZA, fashion designer Barbara Casasola, curator Caroline Bourgeois, journalist Charlie Porter, architect Rafael de Cardenas, and film curator Leonardo Bigazzi.

As an art collector, Evstafieva revealed that she is an “emotional” rather than “strategic” one, rather than one full of strategic planning. Emerging artists and women artists have grown to become a major focus of her collecting journey. We caught up with Evstafieva on what she has bought and why.

Pieter Hugo Mallam Galadima Ahamadu with Jamis, 2005, Archival pigment print on rag paper and Pieter Hugo Mallam Galadina Ahmadu with Jamis and Mallam Mantari Lamal with Mainasara, 2005, Archival pigment print on rag paper, Image by Levgeni

Pieter Hugo’s photographic prints Mallam Galadima Ahamadu with Jamis (2005), and Mallam Mantari Lamal with Mainasara (2005) from his series “The Hyena and Other Men”, hang in Villa Lena. Photo: Levgeni.

What was your first purchase (and how much did you pay for it)?

It was Pieter Hugo’s The Hyena and Other Men series. I purchased each at $1,000.

What was your most recent purchase?

A work by former Villa Lena resident Bradley Kerl. He painted a magnificent view of flowers in full bloom in front of a window of our 19th-century villa, and I had to buy it.

Which works or artists are you hoping to add to your collection this year?

I am an emotional collector, not a strategic one. I don’t really plan what sort of artists I’d like to collect. I just react to certain pieces that I see coming my way. Having said that, in the past few years I have started to gravitate more towards female artists, and I would love to add works by Zhanna Kadyrova and Olga Chernysheva to my collection, both of whom I find to be such profound thinkers.

Bradley Kerl, This Sunburned Dream 2022, oil on canvas, Image courtesy of the artist

Bradley Kerl, This Sunburned Dream (2022). Image courtesy of the artist.

What is the most expensive work of art that you own?

I can tell you which work is the most expensive per square centimeter: a Gerhard Richter overpainted photograph from the 1990s.

Where do you buy art most frequently?

Everywhere, but I find art fairs the most efficient way.

Is there a work you regret purchasing?

No, I never usually regret any purchases and, in fact, it would have to be exceptional circumstances for me to sell a work because of this.

Kathleen Ryan, Untitled, 2017. Glazed ceramic, chrome plated steel, 70 x 30 x 25 inches, 177.8 x 76.2 x 63.5 cm. Image courtesy of the Artist and François Ghebaly Gallery.

Kathleen Ryan, Untitled (2017), glazed ceramic, chrome plated steel. Image courtesy of the artist and François Ghebaly Gallery.

What work do you have hanging above your sofa? What about in your bathroom?

Above my sofa, I have a very large Valerie Snobeck piece. It’s a six-panel piece of transparent film with imprints of a large leaf on three of the panels and negative space on the other three.

What is the most impractical work of art you own?

I have quite a few of those! Kathleen Ryan’s parrot sculpture is highly impractical when you have small children and dogs running around—however, it has survived, so far.

Gaia Fugazza, Plants like him - Cerulean Blue, 2020, Image copyright the artist, Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery London and Rome

Gaia Fugazza, Plants like him—Cerulean Blue (2020), © Gaia Fugazza, courtesy of Richard Saltoun Gallery London and Rome.

What work do you wish you had bought when you had the chance?

I prefer to buy emerging and lesser established artists—which is why I’m delighted to be partnering with She Curates on our artist residency. With this in mind, I wish I had bought more work by Sara Anstis, or more art by the incredibly talented Gaia Fugazza. Both are female artists, and their work depicts Surrealist, dreamy imagery which I absolutely love.

If you could steal one work of art without getting caught, what would it be?

Probably, the most clichéd answer of all—any large scale Waterlilies by Monet. I just love them.

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