What I Buy and Why: Young Collectors Matthew and Danielle Greenblatt on the Healing Power of Art
Discovery went hand in hand with recovery for the New York couple.
Danielle and Matthew Greenblatt’s motivations for building an art collection are multifaceted. Based in New York, the young couple is passionate about supporting artists of their generation. But don’t call them millennial collectors. “We focus on great artists that speak to us,” said Danielle, founder of a PR firm representing jewelry designers. “There’s an excitement around collecting artists of our generation because, in theory, fewer people have told their story, and our collection can grow alongside their practice.”
“We collect with an open mind,” she continued, “and love the dialogues that emerge among established and emerging talent.” To date, the emerging talent represented in their collection includes such artists as Allison Katz, Ann Greene Kelly, Josh Kline, Christina Quarles, Issy Wood, and Joseph Yaeger.
Yet there is another facet to the Greenblatts’ art collection, one that goes deeper than generational fealty. Having undergone two kidney transplants, Matthew sought solace and recuperation in collecting, a kind of escapism. “The collection speaks to personal experiences,” he said. “The driving force are themes of anxiety and brokenness”—and, ultimately, healing. It was the therapeutic quality of a Rashid Johnson piece, Anxious Men (2015), that started Matthew, who works in finance, down the road to recovery.
Though they’re New Yorkers through and through, Danielle and Matthew met during their college years in Boston. In a way, they never left as they continue to be involved with Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), now part of its acquisition committee. “We love the intimacy and camaraderie the ICA’s program offers,” said Danielle.
The couple spoke with Artnet News about discovery, acquisition, and recovery.
What was your first purchase?
We started with prints because they were affordable and accessible. We realized after some time that while they were a great introduction, we didn’t find them as rewarding to engage with day to day. The first purchase that really started to shape today’s collection was a mirrored work by Rashid Johnson. The piece juxtaposes black soap and wax with mirror, and we were very drawn to its commentary about self-reflection. We saw the work in London and remember wondering how something so intimidating could be so beautiful. Rashid is also the first artist we collected in depth. Seeing how an artist evolves over time and being able to tell their story through multiple examples is something we care a lot about.
What was your most recent purchase?
A sculpture from Josh Kline’s “Blue Collars” series and a cabbage painting by Allison Katz.
Danielle: I love how romantic Allison’s cabbage paintings are; they always feature the shadow of her husband’s profile facing the cabbage. The French word chou means cabbage but mon chou is a term of endearment—like ‘sweetie,’ or ‘my darling.’ The shape of a cabbage also resembles the human heart. I find the work incredibly surreal, and there’s a lot more to them than meets the eye.
Matt: We have admired Josh’s work for a while. I love art that forces you to slow down and question. His social observations around labor and automation are extremely relevant today. Technology is amazing and necessary, but its impact isn’t always positive.
Tell us about a favorite work in your collection.
Our favorite work is the collection in its entirety. Each work has its own story and significance, and our relationship to them changes based on what’s going on in our lives and the world. For example, it’s hard for us to look at our Joseph Yaeger painting and not recall the difficulty we (all) experienced during the pandemic, or how Issy Wood’s painting of fine china reminds us of the fragility—on so many levels!—that comes with hosting large family gatherings. The beauty of art is that today’s interpretations aren’t necessarily tomorrow’s. Building a collection is a bit like putting a puzzle together upside down: some works and artists naturally fit together, while others are less obvious at first but wind up making all of the difference. Hopefully we capture some of the key voices from different generations and it’s reflective of our experiences together.
Which works or artists are you hoping to add to your collection this year?
If only it were that easy! We try to add a few works each year, but we are patient and thoughtful. We see a lot of art, and when something really hits us, we focus. Two artists whose work we’d love to live with are Justin Caguiat and Mohammed Sami. We traveled to each of their recent museum shows in Dallas and London to understand the breadth of their practice and found both artists extremely compelling.
Danielle: We love the dreamlike quality of Justin’s work; it’s imaginative and a little bit escapist. The more you look at it, the more hidden figures are revealed. His paintings are incredibly layered, and while they’re very contemporary, the work has a sensibility reminiscent of the early 1900s.
Matt: Mohammed has a way of painting time and place that’s almost haunting. His work is reflective of his upbringing in Baghdad—something entirely unfamiliar to us, and yet you immediately feel connected to his experiences when you engage with the work. You can’t help but wonder about the person or people who were either in that space and/or around it.
Where do you buy art most frequently?
We’ve only bought work from the artists’ primary galleries, but we’re constantly in discovery mode. We look at art everywhere we can—museums, fairs, private collections, auctions, biennials, smaller nonprofit organizations, etc. There’s so much to see and learn about, and so many platforms to experience it all.
Is there a work you regret purchasing?
No. We have made mistakes along the way, but those decisions are part of our story. The more you see, the more you learn what really moves you, what you want to be surrounded by every day and the difference between a ‘good’ work and a ‘great’ work. Like most collectors say, it’s usually the work(s) you don’t buy that you regret more.
What work do you have hanging above your sofa? What about in your bathroom?
The sofa in our living room floats in front of works by Issy Wood, Rashid Johnson, and Glenn Ligon. The Issy Wood depicts one of her iconic car interiors. She’s been fascinated with how men and women see cars. Men often associate them with fantasy and sex, women with fear or entrapment. The work is incredibly dynamic, and she has this brilliant way of painting texture and light. Glenn’s work has a similar ambiguity to it but is a bit more conceptual in nature. This particular series alludes to something being ‘broken down’ or ‘destroyed.’ Something about it perfectly captures the last few years.
We also have a painting by Christina Quarles above the sofa in Danielle’s office. Her unique approach to figuration combined with her use of color makes the work so energetic. There’s also something to be said for the out-of-body experience she paints, and we feel particularly connected to that, with Matt having undergone two kidney transplants.
There’s no art in the bathroom—yet!—though we’d love to cover one in Paul McCarthy’s Santa Claus wallpaper one day.
What is the most impractical work of art you own?
Practicality and art collecting rarely go hand in hand. All of the doors in our first apartment were removed because they interfered with the good art walls (a bit of an oversight when we realized there was nothing to slam after an argument). We live with a few large sculptures by Ann Greene Kelly and Josh Kline, which are tricky in a small New York apartment, and a very large Pam Evelyn painting. The logistics and impracticality of it all are part of the fun. We always say we don’t buy for walls—if the work is great and it enhances the collection, we’ll figure it out.
What work do you wish you had bought when you had the chance?
Rashid Johnson’s Anxious Men from 2015. We first saw Rashid’s work in a documentary and went to Hauser & Wirth one Saturday to learn more. Amazingly, we were offered a work, but we were intimidated by the price. We can still hear the gallerist, who has since become a dear friend, saying, “It’s never this easy.” Boy, was she right!
If you could steal one work of art without getting caught, what would it be?
Danielle: A Lucio Fontana turquoise slash painting from the 1960s. Wildly ‘simple’ at first glance but I love how irreverent he was—slashing through something so precious and as a result creating an entire movement.
Matt: One of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s light-string sculptures from 1992. The finite lifespan of a bulb, the need to replace it over time, and what the work communicates about life is very relatable.
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