What I Buy and Why: ‘Cultured’ Magazine Founder Sarah Harrelson on the Art She Admires for Her Walls and in Print
The founder of "Cultured" magazine owns works by Arthur Jafa, Lucy Dodd, and more.
Ten years ago, Sarah Harrelson founded Cultured, a glossy print magazine dedicated to art, architecture, and design. A veteran of the publishing world, she was the founder of the Miami Herald’s “Home and Design” section, and previously served as editor in chief of Ocean Drive and Art Basel Magazine.
Though Harrelson and husband Austin Harrelson, an interior designer, have lived in Los Angeles since last year, her immersion in the Miami Beach art scene dates to when the couple moved there in 2000—two years before Art Basel made its debut in the U.S. She was one of the few editors on the ground covering the inaugural edition.
This early immersion in the contemporary art fair circuit introduced Harrelson to the work of many young artists. Over the years, she and her husband have built up a significant collection, including works by Jonathan Lyndon Chase, Donna Huanca, Neil Baloufa, Janette Mundt, Bunny Rogers, Elle Perez, and Josh Kline.
Now, two decades later, Harrelson has released the 10th-anniversary edition of Cultured, with a series of 10 covers, each featuring a different artist representing the publication’s breadth of coverage over the years: Nicholas Party, Derek Fordjour, Ming Smith, Derrick Adams, Genevieve Gagnard, Pat Steir, Tschabalala Self, Christina Quarles, Manuel Solano, and Mary Weatherford.
Ahead of the art world’s annual pilgrimage to South Florida, we spoke to Harrelson about how she built her collection and the joy each work brings her.
What was your first purchase?
My husband and I were at Art Basel Switzerland in 2010 and fell in love with a Spencer Sweeney painting from [New York dealer] Gavin Brown. I think it’s a self-portrait. Dara Friedman, a dear friend of mine from Miami and a great video artist, told me to go check out that work. I tend to think that another artist going out of their way to make you aware of an artwork is the highest recommendation it can get. The piece was in our bedroom until we relocated to Los Angeles in 2021 and there is a strong possibility it will end up there once again.
What was your most recent purchase?
This August, I bought a Clifford Prince King photograph from his exhibition at Stars [in Los Angeles] and an Alex Becerra painting from his exhibition at Various Small Fires [in Los Angeles]. Both pieces are complex and charged. They are definitely representative of the time.
Hugh Hayden has been on my radar since he was finishing up his degree at Columbia University. I had always been interested in his trajectory and how he studied and worked in architecture for a decade before going to get his MFA. Olivier Babin from Clearing is a good friend, so when something became available recently, I was thrilled. I have not installed it yet, but will very soon!
Which works or artists are you hoping to add to your collection this year?
There are so many people I am obsessed with. We are incredibly lucky to be living through what feels like a flood rush of creative energy and artistic growth.
We just had the privilege of featuring Charles Gaines and Jenny Holzer in the magazine, two influential artists whose work has been extremely important to the younger generation of artists whose work we were fortunate enough to collect early on.
In terms of what I have had the financial capacity to take home with me, its mostly been the work of super emerging artists that has been accessible to us. While being able to support an artist early on is a privilege because you get to see them grow and follow the story, I would also love to be able to contextualize some of those pieces with the work of pioneering radicals like Charles and Jenny who came before them, and who in many ways I think made their practices possible… one can dream!
What is the most expensive work of art that you own?
The Arthur Jafa piece we have in our living room, which we also bought from Gavin Brown. A.J. is simply one of the most singular artists of our time, and it is a great joy to live with an artwork by an artist I deeply respect and admire.
Where do you buy art most frequently?
While I certainly feel that we have developed intimate relationships with a few galleries, I also always find myself buying new places or somewhere I never expected to find work. I think that’s what makes it so exciting for us, the diversity of experiences we’ve had over the years in our pursuit of new acquisitions—and of course the thrill of discovery.
Is there a work you regret purchasing?
Even if I like a work less than I originally thought I would, I never regret supporting an artist or a gallery.
What work do you have hanging above your sofa? What about in your bathroom?
I have a painting by Lucy Dodd that I purchased around the time she was an artist-in-residence at the Rubell Museum (which was the Rubell Family Collection at that time) above the sofa in the living room. In addition to the unabashed beauty of Lucy’s work, her uncanny relationship with nature and organic materials brings her work into a conversation with L.A.’s incredible flora and fauna that peek into the room through the windows on either side of the painting.
In my bathroom, there’s a work by Timo Fahler. We first met Timo eight years ago. He was a studio assistant working with Mary Weatherford when we photographed her for our cover. He just had an incredible sculpture from his MOCA Tucson exhibition acquired by LACMA.
What is the most impractical work of art you own?
It’s not so much impractical as it is magical, but we have a small lightbox that Anicka Yi made about a decade ago. It is just gorgeous when it glows.
What work do you wish you had bought when you had the chance?
If you could steal one work of art without getting caught, what would it be?
It would have to be a Lynette Yiadom Boakye. She is a lyricist with the brush and a force with form.
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