What I Buy and Why: Art Dealer Carla Camacho on the Best Collecting Advice She Ever Received, and Why She Likes to Shop at Work
The Lehmann Maupin partner tells us about which artists she's coveting right now and why collecting is an occupational hazard.
Some people leave their jobs at the office. Carla Camacho is not one of them. Instead, the art dealer, a partner at Lehmann Maupin in New York, fills her home with pieces by the artists she has worked with over the course of her career. And while some of these figures, like Mickalene Thomas, are no longer represented by the gallery, their work remains a fixture in Camacho’s New York apartment.
Other artists in her collection include McArthur Binion, Dominic Chambers, Angel Otero, and Alex Prager. Camacho, who for 15 years has been instrumental in the gallery’s expansion to cities as far-flung as Aspen and Seoul, also has a knack for discovering young artists before they hit it big. You might even say that growing her collection is an occupational hazard.
What was your first purchase (and how much did you pay for it)?
My first purchase was a placemat drawing by R. Crumb, an artist I showed when I worked at Paul Morris Gallery 20 years ago. Paul gave the best advice: “Buy as much as you can and just stick it under the bed for a rainy day.” I probably paid around $5,000, which was a big investment for me then, and probably took me five months to pay off.
What was your most recent purchase?
A new painting by Dominic Chambers, a young artist who has gained recognition for his strong figurative paintings that explore concepts of Black intellectualism and literature through vibrant compositions. He is one of the most exciting painters of this new generation, and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for him. We recently showed new work of his at Frieze New York, and the response was tremendous.
Which works or artists are you hoping to add to your collection this year?
My husband Michael Hermann (who is the director of licensing, marketing, and sales at the Andy Warhol Foundation) and I have been coveting one of Nari Ward’s basketball trading card works, and I hope that will be our next purchase! We’ve represented Nari Ward since 2009, so I’ve developed a strong relationship with him. We will have a show with him in New York next spring, so that might be my opportunity.
What is the most expensive art work you own?
The most expensive artwork I own is by Mickalene Thomas. I worked with her at Lehmann Maupin for many years and had the opportunity to acquire something very special for my personal collection.
Where do you buy art most frequently?
After 15 years of working at Lehmann Maupin, I have a deep-rooted connection to many of the artists and naturally gravitate toward supporting our program. Because I’ve followed their careers and markets very closely, I’ve been in a position to buy the right work at the right moment—and often that means early.
How does being a dealer inform the way you collect?
In an ideal world, I would own one work by each of the artists I work with. One of the things I love most about my position at the gallery is the opportunity to build tight-knit relationships with our artists and their studios, while also keeping an eye out for new talent to join our program. I’ve had the chance to work with major artists like Gilbert & George, Do Ho Suh, and Teresita Fernández as their careers hit major milestones, while also encouraging the growth of artists from a slightly younger generation, including Mandy El-Sayegh, Angel Otero, and Arcmanoro Niles. It’s the best of both worlds and tremendously rewarding.
Is there an artwork you regret not purchasing?
Do Ho Suh! There was a beautiful thread drawing at Frieze New York in 2013, which I still kick myself for not buying.
What work do you have hanging above your sofa? What about in your bathroom?
Above the sofa, I have a painting that my husband made! In my bathroom, I have a photograph by the fashion designer Mara Hoffman.
Other treasured works elsewhere include a work on paper by Tracey Moffatt and a photograph by Weegee. The Moffatt was a gift in 2001 from my husband for our first anniversary (which is traditionally paper). I’ve been following Tracey’s career since then and was thrilled to see her installation in 2017, when she represented Australia at the Venice Biennale.
What is the most impractical work of art you own?
I have a funky sculpture by Agathe Snow that I have never been able to find a place for.
What work do you wish you had bought when you had the chance?
Oh gosh, I tried to buy a painting by Arcmanoro Niles from our first show together this past summer, but the work I had in mind ended up with a museum instead. I’m holding out hope that one day I’ll be able to add him to my personal collection.
If you could steal one work of art without getting caught, what would it be?
Édouard Manet’s Olympia!
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