BY Amy Phelan AND Marilyn Minter in Interviews | 25 JUN 21

ArtCrush Co-Chair Amy Phelan on Collecting and Giving Back

In celebration of her 15-year tenure as ArtCrush Event Chair, Amy Phelan speaks to Marilyn Minter about her collection, her philosophy and the pleasure of keeping a ‘little secret’

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BY Amy Phelan AND Marilyn Minter in Interviews | 25 JUN 21

Marilyn Minter: Well, where did we meet? OK, my recollection is that Harley Baldwin and Richard Edwards came to my studio. We were talking and I told them that I was looking for a woman with beautiful lips. At that time, I was stopping people in the street who I liked the look of, but they would say: ‘I don’t want to pose for you.’ I had no career then, you couldn’t google me or anything, so I was a total stranger. Anyway, Harley said: ‘I’ve got the perfect model for you.’ And the next thing I knew, you came to my studio. As soon as you walked in, I thought: ‘Oh my god, I’ve been looking for you for years!’ Is that how we met?

Amy Phelan in the games room of her Stonefox-designed home, Palm Beach, Florida, May 2021. At left, on wall: Damien Hirst, A Beautiful Thing, 2002. All photography: Jeremy Liebman
Amy Phelan in the games room of her Stonefox-designed home, Palm Beach, Florida, May 2021. On the wall: Damien Hirst, A Beautiful Thing, 2002. Photography: Jeremy Liebman

Amy Phelan: That’s exactly how we met. I think it was in 2004. Harley had a show of yours up in Aspen. There were a few paintings and most were sold — including the one that we loved. So Harley said: ‘I’d love to introduce you to Marilyn, and maybe we could convince her to do a painting for you.’ And so, lo and behold, we came to your studio and that was that. We became best friends.

MM: Yes, and the beautiful part was that, when you came to my studio for the shoot, you brought your own jewelry. I had been using Patricia Field’s paste jewelry for all the photos and paintings, but you brought those crystals. Also, posing for me in the year 2004 was a nightmare. The models got all greasy and wet. They had to put jewelry in their mouths and some of them would gag. But you, Amy, were the perfect model. You were sweating, you were hot, you were covered in glitter, and you were just such a trouper. I think all you did was ask for a glass of wine. That was it. I couldn’t believe it. Is that how you remember it?

AP: One hundred percent. It was truly one of the best moments of my life.

MM: I remember you had to clean yourself up and go to an auction right afterwards. All you did was wipe everything off your face, wash and leave. You put your coat on and you looked just perfect.

AP: Well, I’m glad that’s how you remember me, Marilyn.

MM: I definitely do. You were a young, beautiful blonde with beautiful lips, and so I got maybe five or six paintings and a whole bunch of photos. After the 2006 Whitney Biennial, I had a little more success, and I would see the photos of you when I went to collectors’ houses, and I always wondered if you ever had that experience? Did you ever walk into a collector’s house and see a photo or a painting of yourself?

AP: I did, actually!

Main living room, with Ellsworth Kelly, Yellow Diagonal, 2008, (on wall).
Living room. On the wall: Ellsworth Kelly, Yellow Diagonal, 2008. Photography: Jeremy Liebman

MM: What was that like?

AP: Like I had this little secret!

MM: You didn’t tell anyone? You didn’t say: ‘That’s me!’?

AP: I don’t think I did, because it would have been weird. But it was very cool.

MM: So, I have always been curious about the first piece of art you ever bought.

Main stairwell, with Tara Donovan, Untitled (Pins), 2004 (on floor); Spencer Finch, Sun Over the Sahara Desert on 1/2/11, 2013 (in centre, suspended); and Takashi Murakami, Panda Family-Happiness, 2014 (on wall).
Main stairwell. On the floor: Tara Donovan, Untitled (Pins), 2004; suspended: Spencer Finch, Sun Over the Sahara Desert on 1/2/11, 2013; on the wall: Takashi Murakami, Panda Family-Happiness, 2014. Photography: Jeremy Liebman

AP: Our initial direction wasn’t contemporary, it was more modern — Marc Chagall, Willem de Kooning and etchings by Pablo Picasso. Then, the first piece of contemporary art was a Thomas Ruff nude and it just made our previous direction feel less exciting. The contemporary aspect was a shift and it felt fresh and alive.

MM: Did you have an advisor in those days?

AP: Do you know what? We’ve never used an advisor.

MM: That’s amazing. So did you take art history classes or did you study something? How did you know what to buy?

AP: We just bought what we loved. I feel like the more you look and the more questions you ask, the more you learn and the more you appreciate. [My husband] John and I want to live with things that are exciting and move us, that make us feel happy and alive. That’s really been how we’ve selected and purchased pieces.

MM: What I loved is that you often bought pieces most people shied away from. You weren’t at all afraid of sexual imagery, which was very rare in those days.

AP: No. It’s all interesting and exciting. There are elements of voyeurism, of confidence and feminism.
MM I love that you bought women artists all the time. So, what are some touchstone pieces in your collection that never come down when you rehang?

AP: We have some permanent pieces that are always installed: a Jenny Holzer ‘Truism’ commission, some Lawrence Weiners, a Walead Beshty mirrored acrylic floor. The Donald Lipski branches (one in Aspen and one in Palm Beach) are chandeliers, so they stay, and I always love to have one of your works, Marilyn, because of our long-term relationship and because I just love them so much.

MM: Is there anything you ever passed up and you really regretted it?

AP: Oh my god, yes!

MM: What’s the first one that comes to mind?

AP: The first one that comes to mind was a large Gerhard Richter painting. There are things that you miss; that’s one of so many. But, you can’t look back; you can only look forward. Our philosophy has always been that we collect things that we can’t live without — meaning that they create a visceral reaction. It has to be something that we can’t stop thinking about. Our collection is humorous, sexy, a little dark. There’s always something underlying in the work in some way. Those are the things that drive us, that really make us excited and the fun thing is that John and I have very similar taste, so we generally agree on everything. Now we’re really trying to buy things that we know will make the wall. We rehang as often as possible, so we can live with different pieces and also because I just can’t stand things being in storage: it makes me sad.

Breakfast room, with Damien Hirst, Beautiful Lovely, My Little Ponies, Stardust Painting (Bleeding), 2003 (on wall).
Breakfast room. On the wall: Damien Hirst, Beautiful Lovely, My Little Ponies, Stardust Painting (Bleeding), 2003. Photography: Jeremy Liebman

MM: ArtCrush is such a big deal, and it’s such a lot of work. When do you start planning it?

AP: Typically we start to plan in January.

MM: Holy cow! So January, and it doesn’t happen until August?

AP: That’s right. But when work is fun, it doesn’t seem like work.

MM: How did you get involved with the Aspen Art Museum?

AP: When John and I bought our house in Aspen, we had the pleasure of meet- ing the great collectors Nancy Magoon, and Larry and Susan Marx. I believe, at the time, Nancy was president of the museum. I greatly looked up to both Nancy and Susan — they are my mentors in Aspen and they are the ones responsible for getting us as involved in the museum as we are.

MM: Did one of them do ArtCrush before you? Was there an ArtCrush?

AP: The summer benefit before ArtCrush was called Howl at the Moon. I’m not sure I ever went or even knew about it; it was before my time. When the former director, Heidi Zuckerman, came to the museum, she, together with Carolyn Powers and Maria Bell, decided to change the summer benefit and they created ArtCrush.

MM: You’ve raised a bundle for the Aspen Art Museum and I know you have so many charities, I don’t even want to list them all.

AP: It’s important to be philanthropic. It’s important to give where you live. To quote the artist Jim Hodges ‘Give more than you take.’

MM: Where did the impulse to give come from for you?

AP: John’s a self-made businessman and he has worked very hard for everything that we have. It’s important to show gratitude for things that you have in your life and do as much as you can for other people and other organizations that need your help. If you can do it, you should, in my opinion.

MM: I feel the exact same way. I know that, in 2008, you created an endowment for the museum
in Aspen so that admission is free. What inspired that decision?

AP: John and I both feel that museums are vessels of knowledge and curiosity for everyone, especially young children. Giving people an opportunity to admire and discuss art, making it accessible to everyone is super important. I wish all museums were free. Not all of them are, but more and more are leaning towards suggesting a donation versus a real admission.

 with Tara Donovan, Untitled (Pins), 2004 (on floor); and Subodh Gupta, Love, 2014 (on wall).
Main stairwell. On the floor: Tara Donovan, Untitled (Pins), 2004; on the wall: Subodh Gupta, Love, 2014. Photography: Jeremy Liebman

MM: You’ve been doing ArtCrush for 15 years. Can you tell me about some of the highlights that have really meant a lot to you?

AP: There are so many amazing moments because it’s such a special event — everybody relaxes and there’s a real sense of community. You get to go on hikes with great artists and collectors and people who travel in from all over the world. Obviously, since we’re doing the interview and you’re my favorite person of all times, you were a very early honoree.

MM: That was amazing. Frankly, I was stunned that I got honored.

AP: I remember when we honored Roni Horn, she walked in circles on the stage and recited poetry. That was a special moment, probably never to be seen again. Then, when we honored Tom Sachs, we did these maple syrup fountains, and offered everybody bacon to dip in the syrup because that’s something Tom loves to eat. That was pretty fun. We always try to find something particular to the artist we are honoring and do our own little take on that. It really is about the artists and the art. We want the artists to feel loved and appreciated — because, without their generosity, neither the museum nor the event would be what they are. So we really try to make it a special weekend for the artists, patrons, gallerists and museum directors that come from all over. I feel like people are always their best when they’re away, and I think that’s one of the things this destination event provides. It’s like a mini cultural vacation.

MM: What are you most excited about for this year’s ArtCrush?

AP: I’m really excited to see artists and to reconnect with people I haven’t seen in a long time. Plus, I’m excited to celebrate Mary Weatherford.

MM: So, this is your last year and we’re going to miss you so much.

AP: I’m not going anywhere, but it’s time. Fifteen years is a long time. I’m so delighted that Jamie Tisch is my Co-Chair this year and my hope is that she will continue on.

MM: Congratulations on 15 years!

AP: Thank you, Marilyn. And thank you for being a part of it.


Amy Phelan is co-chair of ArtCrush 2021, the Aspen Art Museum's annual summer gala and fundraising auction. The auction is available to view online at sothebys.com/aspenartmuseum

Online bidding opens July 26 and closes August 6 at 10am MDT, with bidding on selected lots taking place at a live auction during the annual summer gala on August 6. 

Lots will be exhibited at the Aspen Art Museum July 27-August 5, 2021.

 

Main image: Private nook in Amy Phelan's home with a work by Marilyn Minter, Reference Photo, Bullet, 2003. Photography: Jeremy Liebman

Amy Phelan is a collector and patron based in Aspen, New York City and Palm Beach. She is a member of the National Council of the Aspen Art Museum and this is her 15th time as ArtCrush Event Chair.

Marilyn Minter is an artist based in New York. In 2021 she had solo exhibitions at MO.CO Montpellier, France, and MoCO Westport, US. Her work is also currently included in the group exhibition 'New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st Century' at Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, which runs until 30 January 2022.

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