The Best Gifts Art-World Insiders Have Ever Given, From an Old Master Painting to a Zanzibarian Key
On the sixth day of Artmas, we hear from artists, dealers, and curators about how they've honored loved ones with presents.
Welcome to The 12 Days of Artmas, our new, non-denominational holiday extravaganza—an advent calendar with gift ideas and stories for art lovers of all stripes, dropping daily through December 24.
To inspire your search for the perfect present, we asked folks around the art world what inspired gifts they are most proud of having given. Here’s what they told us.
Bernard Lumpkin, collector
The best gift I’ve been grateful to share with the art world and beyond is the book Young, Gifted, and Black: A New Generation of Artists, edited by my friend and collaborator, Antwaun Sargent, and published by DAP. Now in its third printing, the book celebrates artists, curators, and critics who are reshaping the way we think about race and representation. They’ve taught me so much, and I’m paying it forward by sharing their voices and visions with others.
Neil Hamamoto, artist
As creative director of the Brooklyn-based not-for-profit Worthless Studios, I edited two black-and-white photography books this past year: Free Film: June 2020 and Free Film USA. The books were published in 2021, and it has been a fantastic gift to give. Each book shares images from analogue photographers from all over the globe on pressing issues that I believe are beneficial when seen from multiple perspectives.
Alia Al-Senussi, collector
I love sharing experiences, so I suppose it sounds selfish, but the best gift I have ever given to someone else has also been for myself. I have taken my friends to Marfa, the Roden Crater, the Lightning Field, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Korea—and each time, it’s been a bespoke itinerary filled with all sorts of local touch points and eccentricities. And in fact, those itineraries are then forwarded and passed on far and wide, so perhaps they are the best gift?
Taking my mother back to Egypt after leaving 30 years earlier was insanely special, as was being able to take her to Siwa, where I started my life in the arts, and is just a stone’s throw from Libya (where I also took her for the first time). In fact, visiting Libya with my mother helped me to see past the facade of sadness and really embrace a sense of wonder and hope of a people that had been brutalized for far too long.
Claire Sherman, artist
I have spent time recently trying to create a digital archive for my family. My great grandfather, Cortis Harvey Galbraith, was a photographer in Minneapolis. He traveled throughout Minnesota taking photographs for families between 1890 and 1940, and some photos in the archive are from glass plates that I’ve scanned from his collection. My favorites are the pictures he took of his own family and places that he loved in Northern Minnesota, where our family still convenes every summer.
Vicky Chen, gallerist
A gift to myself: a few years ago, I spontaneously hopped on a plane to New York on my birthday just to catch the last day of one of my favorite artist’s solo shows, and I flew to Miami right after to enjoy the sunshine and Art Basel.
Nazy Nazhand, art consultant
The best gifts I have given are artist-designed products. It gives me great pleasure knowing that I’m sharing the gift of art and design with loved ones. It’s also an opportunity to introduce a small part of our creative world to others. I especially love Nir Hod’s “The Night You Left” coasters and the limited edition candle set “I Want Always To Be Remembered in Your Heart,” which is sadly no longer available. Nir, if you’re reading this, please bring back the candle set!
Isolde Breilmaier, deputy director, New Museum, New York
Best gift I have given and received was a 2014 family trip to see my father’s family in East Africa, Uganda specifically. There is NOTHING like the gift of travel to open the mind and heart! This trip was one of the best experiences I have had and was such a huge gift to give my then very young daughter.
Mira Schor, artist
I often give artworks, and if I see that [the recipients] have [the works] near them in their house or place of work a few years later, it makes me happy. One friend has worn a multicolored mohair hat I crocheted for so many years, I am amazed the threads hold together. So I take that as a successful present I gave. One gift that was fun for me [to give involved] getting as much Moomin swag as I could while in Helsinki for a friend who loved everything Moomin. It was fun to indulge in someone else’s popular-culture love that I had never heard of.
Ben Brown, dealer
Best gift I have given is my wife’s engagement ring. I think so because it obviously works as we are still together.
Lawrence Van Hagen, advisor
Last Christmas, I gifted my top clients a suede cap that the artist Stefan Brüggemann and I designed specifically as a Christmas gift. Stefan is known for his text paintings, which are all written in arial black font. During the pandemic, Stefan began using the slogan “ONLINE DISCONNECTED” in his paintings, and the phrase soon became an iconic emblem as the world navigated from one lockdown to the next, and many of us could only stay connected with our loved ones online. I thought that the parody was genius, and I asked Stefan if we could design something together with the phrase on it. He loved the idea and we came up with the coolest suede cap, which had the slogan written on the front in his signature style. My friends and clients loved it so much. I still often bump into them on the street and find them wearing it.
Fabrizio Moretti, dealer
The Annunciation, a painting by Pieter de Witte, better known as Pietro Candido, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in honor of Keith Christiansen.
Dan Palmer, curator
I gave Awol Erizku an early 19th-century forged iron key from Zanzibar on the occasion of our exhibition together, “New Visions for Iris.” I scoured the city with my wife and asked our favorite antique dealer to find exactly the right one. The gift has deeply personal meanings for me and Awol, which I hoped would articulate my gratitude for our dialogue, and serve as a special token of our collaboration and friendship.
Alia Williams, dealer
A good art book, like Unrealism or Black Futures, always hits the right note. I also love giving a beautiful bouquet of flowers for any occasion.
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