Q&A with Private Collections Co-Chairs, Mary Lou Castellanos & Stephanie Breitbard
Right: Stephanie Breitbard; Left: Mary Lou Castellanos
Private Collections home art tours celebrates its 19th year on Wednesday, April 4th with seven impressive collections from some of San Francisco's most respected art aficionados. This special one-night event is the spring fundraiser for Enterprise for Youth, an important local nonprofit that empowers young people to prepare for and discover career opportunities.
Enterprise Board Members Stephanie Breitard, founder of Simon Breitbard Fine Arts, and Mary Lou Castellanos, realtor at Sotheby's International Realty, have been at the helm of the Private Collections event for years. As this year's Private Collections Co-Chairs, Breitbard's acumen for in-home art consulting coupled with Castellano's extensive knowledge of San Francisco's history and unique real estate market has brought together diverse private art collections around the city that will inspire patrons to think about the ways they can live with art and incorporate it into their everyday lives.
As long-time chairs of Private Collections, what makes this event unique?
ML: To my knowledge, there isn’t another event where the public can pay to visit a private home in San Francisco and view a private art collection. Also, the collectors are almost always available to explain their collections and expand on their motivations and love of art.
What do you hope to experience or learn from touring a private art collection?
ML: In addition to viewing art that couldn’t be seen any other way, meeting collectors, finding out first hand their motivations and journeys in collecting, and their experiences living with treasured art pieces is unique. Additionally, meeting with and viewing art with other San Franciscans who love art is an added bonus to the experience.
SB: I personally love both seeing the range of artwork that our collectors own but also how they display it. I love getting ideas for new creative ways to live with art!
What trends do you see among art collectors?
SB: I see collectors caring about both blue chip established artists AND enjoying learning about new emerging artists. It’s fun to take chances on lesser known artists and see where their careers take them!
ML: One of this year’s collections is exclusively composed of Cuban art. Another is comprised of contemporary African art collected by the collectors during their service in the Peace Corps. Unique old and emerging art forms seem to interest collectors beyond the traditional.
How do collectors tend to manage and curate their private art collections?
ML: Some have docents, while others hire art consultants. Those that have the time, expertise, and subject knowledge tend to do it themselves. The “process” for these collectors is part of the total collecting experience.
SB: I agree with Mary Lou. Most get help from art consultants and gallerists who advise on investment value and artist resumes. Also, many collectors rotate their collections, constantly moving artwork both within their home and in and out of storage facilities. You know you are a true collector when you physically have no place to put the art anymore but can’t stop acquiring new pieces!
Do you have a favorite piece you've seen on a Private Collections home tour?
SB: Love the Michele Pred handbags at the Rappaport’s collection! They are vintage handbags wired with electrical threading that say various statements about women’s rights.
ML: My personal love of art makes it very hard to define “favorite.” People tend to experience art in different ways. That being said, a Private Collections exhibit several years ago was comprised of Shaker furniture (the largest Shaker furniture collection west of the Mississippi). Viewing this collection gave me an insight into a whole community. The art came alive, transmitting a way of life, a belief system, and a family and its journey.
Stephanie, as an art dealer, what advice do you have for someone who wants to start a collection of their own?
1.) Buy what you love! Who knows what it will be worth in any amount of time, so make sure you are primarily buying it because you love it and it makes you happy!
2.) See a lot of art! The more art you see, the more your eye will adjust and you will better understand your own taste in art and also the value of art and why some art is more expensive than others.
3.) Read some books about art collecting. There are several out there that are about “The Art of Collecting Art.”
4.) Don’t be afraid to ask sellers for discounts. They usually have room to discount!
5.) Don’t be afraid to buy BIG art! Every home needs a statement piece! It can fill the wall and even go right over wainscoting! Big art makes a room feel bigger!
6.) Think about your total budget for art and worry less about what each individual piece costs. Some pieces will be a stretch and others will be affordable.
7.) There is not a home I walk into that I do not recommend sculpture somewhere in the house. Sculpture is an essential diversifying component of any art collection!
8.) Not every big wall needs one big piece of art. You should mix it up and do a series on some walls, big pieces on others.
9.) YOU are not art! Please do not put family photos in the living room and family room and dining room… They are best in hallways near bedrooms, preferably kids’ bedrooms!
10.) Don’t let the art world intimidate you! If you feel that way in a gallery, just leave and find a different one that is friendly to new collectors. You should not need to qualify to acquire artwork in a gallery.
11.) DO NOT BUY ART ON VACATION! That ethnic batik from Kenya or the Hawaiian sunset with dolphins will NOT look good when you get it back home!
Mary Lou, as a realtor, what advice do you have for someone who's looking for a home that will make it easy to live with their art?
Depending on the collection, its size, and the budget of the buyer, I recommend purchasing a home that has adequate wall space and proper lighting or the ability to install art lighting. It has been said that “great art stands alone.” I tend to endorse that thesis and avoid decorating with art for art’s sake.
The learn more about Private Collections and to purchase tickets, please visit sfprivatecollections.org.