In “Artists Living with Art,” Chuck Close, Will Cotton, Rashid Johnson, Marilyn Minter, Cindy Sherman and others discuss how they select and display artworks at home.
Imagine being invited on a house tour of the homes of 25 well-known contemporary artists, strolling around their big, airy downtown lofts and other city abodes as they take you aside and explain how they chose the artworks displayed there.
The new book “Artists Living with Art” is that tour.
The coffee-table book, photographed by Oberto Gili and written by Stacey Goergen and Amanda Benchley, with a foreword by art historian Robert Storr, includes dozens of photos and interviews with the artists, most of whom live within blocks of each other.
Chuck Close, Will Cotton, Rashid Johnson, Marilyn Minter, Cindy Sherman and others discuss how they select and display the artworks decorating their homes, and their thoughts on collecting. The result is an artistic and original approach to interiors.
Here, art tends to be moved frequently — often every six months — and paintings can be overlapped, often leaning casually against walls.
Chinese scholars’ rocks — stones naturally formed by the weather into interesting forms — and a range of handmade ceramics are featured in almost every home. And each intimate interior reflects friendships and inspirations, and includes an often-unexpected array of collections, many displayed in unusual ways.
“Through looking at the things artists own and listening to their stories of what it means to them, you can learn more about their work, inspirations and relationships,” says Goergen, who previously worked in the curatorial department of the Whitney Museum of Modern Art.
“In every home featured, we saw a passion for form,” she says, mentioning the artists’ shared interest in rock formations.
“Joan Jonas collects interesting stones or rocks herself and sometimes gives them to her friends as gifts,” Benchley adds.
Unlike professional art collectors, who might buy art as an investment or focus on a specific genre, or interior designers, who select works with an eye to decorating a space, these artists require a deeper, more personal connection for a work to gain entrée.
The results can be startling, like Close’s passion for Old Master canvases and drawings, sometimes alongside more contemporary masters like Roy Lichtenstein and Willem de Kooning.
“If an artist’s work can hold the wall with that of his heroes, he knows he’s on the right track,” writes Storr in the book.
The light-filled loft that Will Cotton shares with Rose Dergan, a staffer at Gagosian Gallery, features plenty of his own work. An enormous sculpture of stacked, life-size plaster cakes stands near a huge front window, not far from enormous landscape paintings featuring lollipop trees and gingerbread houses. There are portraits of beautiful women clad in marshmallows or cake, or lounging seductively on cotton-candy clouds.
The loft also features works by Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and David Salle. But like many of the artists featured in this book, Cotton says he seldom buys art, and accumulated much of his collection through bartering.
Flat, metal file cabinets store a decade’s worth of drawings by fellow artists in a drawing group he has hosted at his home since 2002.
“Drawing is so direct. It’s the moment of thought,” Cotton says. “It’s the structure of painting. I always make a drawing before I make a painting.”
Some of his most cherished drawings — and among the few he has purchased — are dozens of 1960s rocket-ship drawings auctioned off by NASA and drawn by engineers, not artists. One of his favorites explores the ways an astronaut could exit a lunar module on the surface of the moon.
“This one looks like a fishing pole that will pick up one of the astronauts and deposit him on the ground,” Cotton explains with a grin. “It’s so ridiculous, but I love these because they remind me of my approach to working through ideas. When I’m working out what a painting is going to look like, I go through this same process. I love idea-drawings of any kind.”
But Cotton’s most beloved piece, which hangs in his sparse, brick-walled bedroom, is a 1956 charcoal of a nude, legs crossed to one side, by Gil Elvgren, a mid-century illustrator known for calendar pinup girls.
Cotton discovered Elvgren’s work while searching for ideas about how to populate his candy landscapes, and the charcoal drawing became an inspiration to him.
“It’s a light treatment of sexuality, as opposed to Hustler or Penthouse or something like that, which doesn’t interest me at all. It’s more playful and sweet,” he says.
Unlike other collectors, artists “acquire and put up things that mean something very specific to them, things that energize them and help them to make their work better and more distinctive,” writes Storr.
In this sense, the book is a voyeuristic tour not only of artists’ homes, but of their thought processes too.