What I Buy and Why: Philanthropist Pete Scantland Goes Running With Artists and Dreams of Camping Out at the Met

The billboard baron has cultivated a vast treasure trove of contemporary art, including works by Derek Fordjour, Jenna Gribbon, and Tau Lewis.

Pete Scantland with Derek Fordjour's Regatta Study (2020). Photo: Luke Stettner. Courtesy of the collector.
Pete Scantland with Derek Fordjour's Regatta Study (2020). Photo: Luke Stettner. Courtesy of Pete Scantland.

A flashy new billboard can be found in that flashiest of locations, the Sunset Strip. Make that three billboards, actually, all LED, and anything but typical, perched on digital towers that approach the sculptural in form. Designed by architects including RIOS and Tom Wiscombe, the innovative displays are the brainchild of Pete Scantland, founder of Orange Barrel Media, who’s erected them around the country, from major art centers like New York and Miami to his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

So it’s a little ironic—though typically Midwestern—that Scantland, a tycoon of outdoor digital advertising, has been rather reserved about public displays of his own art collection. It’s a vast treasure trove of works by contemporary artists, from Derrick Adams to Yesiyu Zhao, that has taken up so much space that Scantland’s begun transporting pieces to his various offices. He’s even launched a lending program for employees to borrow work. And he’s started sharing his extensive holdings on social media, too, despite his earlier reservations.

In 2021, Scantland together with his family made a splash with the establishment of the Scantland Collection at the Columbus Museum of Art (CMA), which came with a major gift of 27 contemporary works as well as a $2 million endowment for community initiatives for the museum. This past summer, he donated an additional $2 million and 32 works, which were recently on view. Now, not only is he the president of the board of trustees at the CMA, but he also sits on the board at the Wexner Center in Columbus—and, most recently, he began serving as a trustee at MOCA Los Angeles.

Outside of Scantland’s personal collection, Orange Barrel Media regularly partners with artists on public art projects—displayed, naturally, on its outdoor digital platforms. In the last year, the company developed more than 100 such projects with the likes of Nick Cave, Jeffrey Gibson, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Catherine Opie, and Carrie Mae Weems.

We caught up with the billboard baron for a glimpse at what drives his collecting.

At the top of the staircase hangs Igshaan Adams's <em>Die Son Bêre Sy Hitte Ondergronds (the sun stores its heat underground)</em> (2022). Ceramic sculpture by Cammie Staros. Deborah Roberts, <em>Let's not give up</em> (2020), lower right. Courtesy of Pete Scantland.

At the top of the staircase hangs a wall weaving, The Sun Stores Its Heat Underground (2022), by Igshaan Adams. Standing ceramic sculpture by Cammie Staros and the canvas (lower right) by Deborah Roberts, Let’s not give up (2020). Courtesy of Pete Scantland.

What was your first purchase?

The first work I purchased was a photograph made by an artist friend while we both were still in college, and then, in my twenties, I started buying work I loved from local galleries. After I graduated, I got involved at the Wexner Center and the Columbus Museum of Art, and would always find time to catch other museum and gallery shows when I was traveling for work, which was most of my week in those days. Because my interest exceeded my resources for most of this period, I was able to see a lot before I really jumped in, and was able to move quickly once I did, because I knew what I liked. Some of my early acquisitions were works by Hank Willis Thomas and Derrick Adams.

quilt made from decommissioned prison uniforms. Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery.

Hank Willis Thomas, Every Act is Political (2016), a quilt made from decommissioned prison uniforms. Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

What was your most recent purchase?

I’m really excited about this painting by Michelle Blade, Sunday Service on Flint Canyon (2023), which is in her current show at Micki Meng. It’s a beautiful painting, and the scale of the work really does justice to the amazing Arroyo Seco trail, where I’ve been lucky to run with the artist and her running club!

Michelle Blade, <em>Sunday Service on Flint Canyon</em> (2023). Courtesy of Micki Meng Gallery, San Francisco.

Michelle Blade, Sunday Service on Flint Canyon (2023). Courtesy of Micki Meng Gallery, San Francisco.

I also recently purchased First Light (2023), a painting by Soumya Netrabile. The artwork was in her recent show at Anat Egbi and likewise features a mesmerizing forest scene. This isn’t a theme I’m actively pursuing but just worked out that way.

Tau Lewis, <em>Tree of God</em> (2021), installed in Orange Barrel Media's new New York office. Courtesy of Pete Scantland.

Tau Lewis, Tree of God (2021), installed in Orange Barrel Media’s new New York office. Courtesy of Pete Scantland.

Tell us about a favorite work in your collection.

I love this work by Tau Lewis, titled Tree of God (2021), which we just installed in our New York office; it’s the first thing you see when you step out of the elevator. I first saw it in Prospect New Orleans back in 2021, which was brilliantly curated by Diana Nawi and Naima Keith. The work utilizes recycled materials including leather, stingray shagreen, crocodile, and other fabrics from old handbags and clothing, and depicts babies in utero surrounded and protected by Ghanaian Adrinka symbology, which appears throughout the world, including in many wrought iron fences in New Orleans. Created during the pandemic, this work imagines life surrounded by love and will always remind me of that difficult time when we all wished it were so.

Left: Angela Heisch, <em>Sting</em> (2021). Right: Amoako Boafo, <em>Green Shirt</em> (2019). Courtesy of Pete Scantland.

Left: Angela Heisch, Sting (2021). Right: Amoako Boafo, Green Shirt (2019). Courtesy of Pete Scantland.

Which works or artists are you hoping to add to your collection this year?
I’m particularly excited about Louise Bonnet’s upcoming show at Gagosian and I’m hoping that this could be my year to finally purchase a work by Salman Toor (hopefully someone reads this who could help!).

What is the most valuable work of art that you own?
I try not to think of it in a financial sense, which takes some of the magic out of it, but it would be difficult today to collect some of the works I was fortunate to collect earlier. Two works that we’re particularly lucky to have are by Simone Leigh and Noah Davis.

Where do you buy art most frequently?

Almost exclusively from galleries, usually at the gallery show, and sometimes at fairs.

Derrick Adams, <em>Floater 76</em> (2018). Courtesy of Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago.

Derrick Adams, Floater 76 (2018). Courtesy of Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago.

Is there a work you regret purchasing?

No one likes to admit this, but I’ve collected a few works I wouldn’t collect today. Of course, at that moment it made all the sense in the world, but I’ve found that sometimes you have to live with something for a while before figuring it out for sure. I think that’s OK, and it’s an inevitable part of building something that will continue to evolve as new work changes the context of what came before it.

Lucy Bull, <em>2:14</em> (2021). Courtesy of Pete Scantland.

Lucy Bull, 2:14 (2021). Courtesy of Pete Scantland.

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

In our living room, we have a Derek Fordjour painting on one side of the sofa, a Robert Nava painting on the other, and a Genesis Belanger sculpture immediately behind it. It shouldn’t work, but it does! We tend to rotate the placement of works frequently, but I’ve never moved the Fordjour and can’t imagine not seeing it every day. In our bathroom, we have an incredible small painting by Jenna Gribbon and two framed works on paper by Claire Tabouret. We checked the humidity levels and have been assured that it is fine.

A work by Jenna Gribbon hangs in the bathroom. Courtesy of Pete Scantland.

Jenna Gribbon, Doing Nothing (2020). Courtesy of Pete Scantland.

What is the most impractical work of art you own?

We try to live with the work as much as possible and to have as much of it on view as possible. We’re fortunate to be able to have artwork not only in our personal living spaces but Orange Barrel Media’s three office locations with very big walls. We also have a lending program that allows team members to borrow works. That said, together with my family, we’re also working with the Columbus Museum of Art to build a collection reflecting this moment in time, and in 2021 we established the Scantland Family Collection which continues to grow. The two works below we bought knowing the CMA would be a better home for them than we would, and both works appeared in the inaugural exhibition of our first round of gifts in 2021.

Deana Lawson, <em>Assemblage</em> (2010–present). Courtesy of Blum & Poe, Los Angeles.

Deana Lawson, Assemblage (2010–present). Courtesy of Blum & Poe, Los Angeles.

Assemblage (2010–Present) by Deana Lawson is comprised of 750 drugstore photographs and needs to be installed in the corner of a room so that the assembled photographs radiate out from a center mass. The work includes snapshots of the artist’s family and friends juxtaposed with hundreds of images, ranging from Haile Selassie to JonBenet Ramsey, and Snoop Dogg to Kurt Cobain. The work is deeply personal to anyone who sees it, forcing us to examine our personal, often indelible, relationship to the images and the broader social recollections of these subjects.

I’ll also never forget Lauren Halsey’s first show with David Kordansky in 2020. She filled the entire gallery with her brilliantly painted and embellished boxes memorializing South Los Angeles. They were arranged in a dense and gridded structure you could walk through like city blocks. This work honors not only the people and places of her neighborhood but also revisits art historical concepts and figures from Donald Judd to ancient Egypt in a new language that is entirely her own.

Louise Giovanelli, <em>Entheogen</em> (2023). Courtesy of Pete Scantland.

Louise Giovanelli, Entheogen (2023). Courtesy of Pete Scantland.

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

There’ve been so many. There’s this amazing still life by Louis Fratino, My Meal (2019), that I loved. I got busy at work that day, and by the time I had gotten back to it, it was gone. I was able to get a great work from that show, but I still think about that painting. I do try to keep some perspective—you can’t do everything and dwelling on what could have been causes you to miss out on the great possibilities of what’s next.

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

I wouldn’t like to steal anything, but I could definitely camp out in the Met for a few weeks. I like to go to museums and try to imagine what I would have been into had I been around at the dawn of the 19th or 20th century instead of this one.


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