What I Buy and Why: Wendy Goldsmith on Her Obsession With Francesca Woodman, and How She Turned a Fantasy of Collecting Into Reality

The art advisor opens up about the young talents on her radar and the museum masterpiece she covets most.

Wendy Goldsmith. Photo by Iona Wolff.

Becoming an art collector wasn’t always in the cards for Wendy Goldsmith. Long before she made her first purchase, she was strictly an observer. But her art history credentials and a background working as international head of Christie’s 19th-century European art department in both New York and London eventually steered her to taking the plunge. 

Now based in London, Goldsmith heads up her own art advisory with a focus on Impressionist, Modern, and contemporary paintings and sculpture. Her personal collection reflects her keen instincts, from a sculpture by U.S. artist Laurel Roth that was the talk of the town at Art Basel to a jewel by Ali Banisadr that is currently on loan to the Palazzo Vecchio.

We caught up with Goldsmith about how she transitioned from fantasizing about buying art to starting a collection of her own, her obsession with Francesca Woodman, and why she doesn’t put anything too expensive in the bathroom.

Francesca Woodman, Untitled. New York (N.392/ N.391). (1979-1980). Courtesy of Marion Goodman.

Francesca Woodman, Untitled. New York (N.392/ N.391). (1979-1980). Courtesy of the Woodman Family Foundation and Marian Goodman Gallery ©Woodman Family Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

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

It took a long time before I made my first purchase. For the many years I was working at Christie’s I already had my own fantasy collection. Every week it was constantly changing as I could go down to the sale rooms, especially after hours, spending as much time as I wanted walking through my colleagues’ auction views, seeing the best of the best of what the market had to offer, while picking my favorites before they went off to their new homes. Then, the following week, there was a whole new treasure trove to pick from. Living vicariously was always a great luxury. 

Once I left the auction world, I think the first pieces I bought were at an (unfortunately) short-lived art fair called Zoo, held at the Royal Academy. They were a series of postcards of Old Master paintings by the artist Ruth Claxton, where she skillfully manipulates the surface to make the images look contemporary. 

What was your most recent purchase?

Yet another Francesca Woodman. I’m obsessed. I think this is my seventh piece by this unique photographer who was ahead of her time, and then lost her way too soon. This piece is a subject I hadn’t seen before, of the artist in suspenders, with stockings hanging up behind the sofa she lounges across.

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

I have my eye on the luscious works of Flora Yukhnovich, who has just joined Victoria Miro. Her sorbet-colored Rococo follies are an extremely clever and beautiful contemporary take on the classics. I was lucky enough to visit Flora in her studio during her 2019 residency in Venice where our discussions really helped to make her works come alive.

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

Once I am enjoying a work in my home, I try not to think about that anymore!

Ali Banisadr, The Devil (2012). Photo by Iona Wolff.

Ali Banisadr, The Devil (2012). Photo by Iona Wolff.

Where do you buy art most frequently?

Galleries or art fairs. It’s wonderful to be able to work with my friends and colleagues on a personal basis, whereas it’s usually on behalf of my clients.

Is there a work you regret purchasing?

When you’re in the business, that never happens, right?

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

I don’t have anything directly above my sofa, however nearby is a beautiful, very large portrait by the Chinese artist Ling Jian. In my bathroom I have a few inexpensive black-and-white photographs of glamorous London in the 1930’s, which echo my Art Deco building. You never want anything too expensive in a bathroom.

Laurel Roth, BEHOLDER (2010).

Laurel Roth, BEHOLDER (2010).

What is the most impractical work of art you own?

I don’t have to think twice about that one. It’s a sculpture by the American artist Laurel Roth, of two clashing peacocks made from hair clips, fake fingernails, and rhinestones on a raw wooden plinth. It’s super fun, technically brilliant, and there was literally a crowd around it when I bought it at Art Basel Hong Kong. Unfortunately, quite a bit of space is needed to walk around it, so I am still thinking about the best place to install it long term.

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

There is a work by Ali Banisadr that I wanted for years. It’s a large canvas called Selection, full of the intricate detail and brush strokes of his earlier works. In the end, I understand it was purchased by the Salzburg Museum. But with patience, I was able to acquire a smaller jewel by him titled The Devil, which has just left for an exhibition at the Palazzo Vecchio and will be hung in Machiavelli’s office, a rare honor. So, I guess it wasn’t a bad consolation prize.

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

The Kiss by Gustav Klimt. This painting has it all: luxurious color, tactile texture, and true passion. Plus, it’s the icon of an era.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.