What I Buy and Why: Fashion Consultant Kristen Cole on the Joys of Decorating With Great Artworks—and the Ones That Got Away

Cole shared what’s on her walls, how fashion differs from style, and the art she hopes to acquire next.

Photo courtesy Kristen Cole.

Fashion consultant and advisor Kristen Cole has always been drawn to art. The former president and chief creative officer of the Dallas-based boutique chain Forty Five Ten first began collecting art after coming across a Nan Goldin print while on holiday in Florence, Italy with her now-husband. Since then, the two have gone on to amass a vibrant art collection comprised of work by young and emerging artists, much of it discovered while traveling to fairs and visiting galleries across the country.

Throughout their new home—a recently renovated church in Westchester, New York, where the couple lives with their two sons—works by artists such as Kevin Beasley, Sarah Cain, and Ann Craven can be found, each of them infusing the space with life and color.  

Cole recently spoke to Artnet News about her collection, the difference between art and style, and which exciting acquisition ultimately proved to be a baby-proofing nightmare. 


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

My first collectible art purchase was a Nan Goldin photo. I believe it was $2,000. My husband (then boyfriend) and I were staying at the Gallery Art Hotel in Florence where Isabella Broncolini was having a show of Goldin’s work. The one we bought, of a bedroom scene, sat right over the scrambled eggs at the hotel breakfast buffet. I was already a big fan of her work, and we kind of caught the collecting bug right then and there.

What was your most recent purchase?

A small work on paper by Andrew Kuo, made during quarantine.

Nan Goldin, Nan and Brian in Bed, New York City. 1983. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of Jon L. Stryker. © 2016 Nan Goldin.

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

Well, that all depends on how things shape up for 2020! We’re always watching a lot of artists. I have my eye on a piece by Samara Golden at Night Gallery and another piece by Sky Hopinka at Broadway. Full disclosure: Broadway is my husband’s new Tribeca gallery, which he co-founded with his partner, Pascal Spengemann. I also have wanted pieces by Caitlin Keough, Dike Blair, and Peter Dreher for some time now, too.   

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

A Kevin Beasley slab piece from his last show of 2019. It’s one of our largest pieces. We love the materiality and personal storytelling that go into his pieces. His current show at Casey Kaplan is gorgeous. If you haven’t yet seen it, go. 

Where do you buy art most frequently?

We typically buy at art fairs or galleries, the usual suspects. 

Is there a work you regret purchasing?

Never. Just the ones we didn’t purchase.

Installation view, "Kevin Beasley: Reunion" at Casey Kaplan. Courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, photo: Jason Wyche.

Installation view, “Kevin Beasley: Reunion” at Casey Kaplan. Courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, photo: Jason Wyche.

How do you like to display your artwork?

Everywhere. Every surface of our home is covered in art. The more, the better. We just want to live with pieces that inspire us and make us think. We indiscriminately display our children’s art all over the house too; we want them to feel seen and valued! We recently bought an old Gothic Revival church renovated into a home in Westchester, on the water. It’s right outside the city and very peaceful for this time. Our vibrant contemporary art collection has made this old building come alive. 

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

In our living room, we have a Sarah Cain above one sofa, and a Katherine Bradford and Davina Semo behind another. We have a Greg Bogin painting hanging above a sofa in our older son’s room. And we have an Ann Craven bird painting in our bathroom.

What is the most impractical work of art you own?

Our Luke Murphy digital sculptures were challenging when our youngest son was a baby since it’s covered in wires and we acquired it as he was learning to crawl. They are basically baby-proofing nightmares! But we work around our art. Our children have learned to keep their hands off.

Installation view, "Sarah Cain: Dark Matter," Galerie Lelong, New York, September 8–October 15, 2016. Courtesy of Galerie Lelong, New York.

Installation view, “Sarah Cain: Dark Matter,” Galerie Lelong, New York, 2016. Courtesy of Galerie Lelong, New York.

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

For the most part, we acquire artists early on in their careers. We missed out on Louise Bonnet and Derek Fordjour in their early stages, and should have acquired then.

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

Oh I love this question! I would love to live with a Helen Frankenthaler, particularly Giant Step, from the ‘70s. But really any of her paintings would do. I love expressive, yet still feminine works. I mean, I might as well add a Picasso, a Jackson Pollock, and an Yves Klein while I’m on my fantasy spree.

Helen Frankenthaler, New Paths (1973). Collection of Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, New York, ©2019 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Helen Frankenthaler, New Paths (1973). Collection of Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, New York, ©2019 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

What does art mean to you?

Everything. I think beauty and culture matter now more than ever to society. I think we can all now appreciate how dull life becomes when you strip it all away. Art is the only way forward. Artists offer us fresh vision and fearlessly share their experiences, pushing the rest of us forward. Without art and philosophy, we’d still be living in the Dark Ages. It’s totally essential to our humanity. 

Ann Craven's Yellow Canary (Stepping Out in Pink Sunset, in Snow) (2018). Courtesy of the Artist and Maccarone and ADAA Photo by Ann Craven Studio.

Ann Craven’s Yellow Canary (Stepping Out in Pink Sunset, in Snow) (2018). Courtesy of the artist, Maccarone, and ADAA. Photo by Ann Craven Studio.

What does style mean to you? How do you define the relationship between art and style, in your view? 

I don’t consider style as it relates to fashion. Style is just another word for expression. Which is why, even for someone like myself who’s been a fashion director and fashion expert for years, I don’t really “judge” style. I can do that with fashion, but not with style. Style is the way we express ourselves creatively or in dress; it’s generally somewhat unique, but fleeting. Art is expression too, a communication between the artist and viewer, and style in art is just the way that idea is being communicated. It’s a slower, more truthful, and more enduring thing than style.

When we are looking at contemporary art, and really seeing it, we are connecting to the human experience of that moment. I can’t wait to see the art that comes from this moment of crisis we are living through right now. I would guess there will be some major breakthroughs, and if anything, that’s one silver lining.

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