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Fall Collector Profile: Marilyn + Larry Fields The label ‘collector’ can convey the notion that buying and acquiring art is an insular pursuit, reserved for insiders with connections and expensive taste. Collectors Marilyn and Larry Fields prove that passion for collecting and living with art can begin at any age, and their shared enthusiasm is a lesson to anyone interested in learning about contemporary art and the artists who create it. Their story of how they filled their lake front high-rise home with works by some of the greatest contemporary artists of our time in a few breathtaking years is a unique inspiration. The art they’ve collected complements striking design pieces from the 1940s and ‘50s, filling a busy life with beauty as well as meaning. The two also have a private home gallery devoted to showing works from their collection on a rotating basis. When I spent time with the Fields on a rainy afternoon one day, I enjoyed keeping up with the frenetic conversation and sharing their genuine passion for the art and artists who have touched their lives. GV To walk into the home of Marilyn and Larry Fields is to enter a tranquil expanse of art. Stepping off the elevator onto their private floor, I encountered a towering collage of photographs assembled by Jason Lazarus – hundreds of images scoured from the photo-sharing site Flickr, all images of personal experiences during the Iraq war. This was just the first of many powerful pieces I would see. As Marilyn told me when we sat together in their round living room overlooking Lake Michigan, “We certainly live with [art] 24/7. It’s really become our passion.” Married for 34 years, the Fields say they’ve always bought art. If something was visually appealing, they’d buy it. Larry says that at one point they were interested in posters and art glass, picking out a piece here or there, but he admits, “That was mostly haphazard – nothing really made a collection.” They began to aim for a new level in 2000 after submitting a down payment on a condo in a downtown building designed by French architect Lucien Lagrange. They didn’t move in for five years, but in that period several decisions affected their collecting savvy: they became very involved with the Museum of Contemporary Art – Marilyn joined the Women’s Board in 1998, Larry became an MCA trustee around 2004, and they began attending the annual art extravaganza Art Basel Miami in 2002.
A seating area in the Fields’ private gallery is made up of significant design pieces, as well as Kendell Carter’s re-upholstered Marcel Breuer Wassily Chairs.
Each piece in their collection exists in relation to the others around it. According to Marilyn, “We love how every piece continues to speak to each other. We try to make it all work. But most important, it has to appeal to us.” Larry wants to know, “What’s the contextual idea? How is it somehow related to society today? Is it process oriented? When you meet an artist, they can open up your eyes to a way you haven’t seen the world.” Marilyn says: “We’ve grown tremendously and become more sophisticated collectors because of the MCA. Meeting the curators and artists, you really take so much more away from the art that you’re buying. It’s given us a different type of focus. We’ve also met so many amazing people and made many friends in the art world, including other collectors.”
crowd to the city. Larry explains, “I think Anish Kapoor’s ‘Bean’ [Cloud Gate] in Millennium Park is sort of symbolic of city-wide pride. It has drawn people to the city just for this kind of art experience.” Marilyn adds, “That was not something that used to happen. The amount of funding the community raised was pretty incredible. The gardens, the Jaume Plensa Crown Fountain – it’s all perfection.” Larry hopes that what has been successful about Millennium Park could someday be done to update other sites in the city as art showcases, such as the iconic Navy Pier.
Navy Pier will in fact be transformed for a weekend this September when Expo Chicago debuts, returning an international contemporary art fair to a much-loved venue. Marilyn recalls that during Chicago’s art fair heydey in The Fields have collected art from many cities the early 1980s, Vernissage was the party for in many countries, but they feel a great deal of the premier contemporary art fair in the world. pride for the City of Chicago, as well as an ob- As part of the MCA’s Women’s Board, which ligation to support its art community. Larry is once again hosting Vernissage on September and Marilyn agree that the time seems to be 19, she remembers, “There was Art Basel in right in Chicago for a boost for some artists Switzerland, but not much else. From 1982 and galleries. Larry points to success stories of here until it ended in 2004 it was really pheyoung artists like Theaster Gates, Rashid nomenal. Galleries who came from around the Johnson, Angel Otero, Nick Cave, William J. world were very, very disappointed when it O'Brien, Kerry James Marshall, and Dianna ended. The thought of bringing it back to Frid, each of whom have work in the Fields’ Navy Pier, where everyone’s heart was, is excollection. To Larry, because of the internaciting, and many of those original galleries are The Fields’ home is a balance of art, architecture and contemporary design. Though Mari- tional attention these artists have received, he coming back.” To run a successful fair now, suspects that people who may have been previ- there is a critical place for a certain scene, and lyn and Larry collect as a team, their roles at Marilyn agrees that Vernissage is an important home with the work are different. Marilyn has ously reluctant to purchase work from a Chicago gallery (instead of say, in New York) element that will get people excited about the taken great care to develop the character of may now have more confidence buying art return of the fair. the home through furniture and design, colhere. Larry says he and Marilyn try to support lecting 1950s modern furniture as well as Having discussed collecting, art in Chicago, pieces by 1940s French designers Jean-Michel younger artists when they’re getting started; for instance they have acquired a piece from and the upcoming Expo, Larry relished the Frank and André Arbus. When they finally each of Gates’ series. Larry states, “It takes a opportunity to introduce a visitor to his famoved into their apartment in 2005, Marilyn village to support artists here: galleries, art vorite works, so I made a concerted effort to describes opening up the art and furniture as, schools, non-profits, museums – they all work keep pace as he rattled off names of artists and “One of the most exciting moments – we’d the story behind each piece. Both Marilyn and bought all of these beautiful pieces and they’d together to create a wonderful experience.” Larry have personally placed each work of art, been in storage for years.” For Larry, “We The couple credits the opening of Millennium but they’ve also largely kept the experience of looked at which pieces had dialogue with each others in mind when deciding where certain other. It’s fun buying, but it’s even more fun in- Park and the Art Institute’s Modern Wing with finally drawing a more international works should be. Certain spaces are meant for stalling.”
Printed in September-December 2012 issue of Chicago Gallery News. Not to be reproduced without permission from CGN.
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Printed in September-December 2012 issue of Chicago Gallery News. Not to be reproduced without permission from CGN.
In the gallery space, a John Baldessari painting dominates. A hidden room features a closet and kitchenette covered 360° in acrylic resin. Also pictured is Eric Swenson’s sinister sculpture of a deer struggling with a shadowy cape.
quiet pieces, such as one of Sol LeWitt’s minimalist cubic constructions placed in a window overlooking the back of the MCA. Nearby is a subtle Fred Sandbeck installation, as well as a work by Italian painter Lucio Fontana. On a bench in the entryway is a commissioned book by Deb Sokolow featuring an amusing conspiracy story about Larry, a cattle futures trader, and some cows mysteriously being found in a warehouse on the west side of Chicago. Marilyn calls it a clever homage to Larry.
The Fields’ living room is defined by its full view of Lake Michigan, but upon closer examination, you find several surprising works of art and furniture around the room. A footstool by Kendell Carter, from monique meloche gallery, is made of a repurposed an egg crate that has been painted silver, with a cushion made from two fabric patterns: a traditional looking neutral fabric and camoflauge. One of Marc Swanson’s smaller rhinestone-encrusted antlers sits on one tiered wood coffee table with curving lines, while a small sculpture by John Chamberlain sits atop another table nearby. Pointing out an unusual looking, yellowed floor lamp in the living room, Larry says, “That’s a Kippenblinky Light – [Martin Kippenberger] died about 10 years ago, give or take, but he did about 10 of these lights. Each one has cigarette butts with smoking paraphernalia in it. He also incorporated actual Murano glass from a lamp that his wife loved - he sort of replicated it and then did some edgy work on it. I like the idea of looking at something very Mark Bradford’s sculpture featuring a switchblade embedded in a rock recalls Sir Lancelot’s sword in the stone. interesting the first time,
and then when you go back and look at it again, there’s another story behind it.” Together all of these works make everything a little less serious. In the apartment’s tranquil entryway, muted by opaque green glass panels, a handful of large-scale paintings are meant to make a dramatic first impression. Mark Tansey is a favorite of the couple. His Utopic, in his signature inky blue, looms on the wall opposite the front door, featuring a dreamy scene from Anna Freud’s study. Larry notes that the hermaphrodite statue pictured on the chaise actually exists in the Louvre. Freud, Marx and Nietzsche are looking down from inside their portrait frames, psychoanalyzing her sexual identity. In the Fields’ long, open dining room, four 1970s-looking photographs by Richard Prince are lined up opposite a wall of windows overlooking the Lake. Larry excitedly explained the placement, “When we have dinner parties, the guests at the table can pick their favorite lady. The ladies are all looking to the left, to the east in the room. What are they looking for? Love. We made sure to place Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture at the east end of the buffet to create a story line for everyone.” Larry tells me that they move works around in the apartment’s private gallery about 2-3 times a year, whereas most art in the main apartment space stays put. An initial impression of the gallery is of whimsy and interaction, exempli-
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Printed in September-December 2012 issue of Chicago Gallery News. Not to be reproduced without permission from CGN. fied by Anish Kapoor’s target-like shiny whirlpool that draws your attention as you enter the room. Set into the wall, it gives the sense that you’re falling down a rabbit hole to infinity - just like having a private Millennium Park Cloud Gate at home. Groupings are common in the gallery space, evidence of Larry’s fondness for curating. Marilyn explains, “He really loves delving into each work of art and sharing all the stories.” Larry puts works together according to a variety of themes, such as surface, era, concept, or global geography. He enjoys seeing how things go together and how they speak to each other. One group focuses on an African American aesthetic, with Mark Bradford’s bags of soccer balls, and a flag by David Hammons, as well as pieces by Rashid Johnson, Hank Willis Thomas, Lyle Ashton Harris, and Kara Walker. Towards the north end of the gallery several works by Theaster Gates feature prominently. Larry first stops at one that he says is from Wisconsin, specifically Kohler where sinks and toilets are manufactured. He says Gates used the porcelain from the Kohler Museum when he was there during a residency. A dramatic slash indicates, according to Larry, that the person who created the piece is saying “my name is product,” referring to a time when slaves were working for owners and their names were invisible. Another work by Gates Across is a firehose wound up in a circle framed and behind glass; for the viewer, our country’s civil rights struggles and the treatment of blacks are neatly laid bare via Gates’s poignant way of working with a found material like a fire hose. Larry is undeniably proud of all of the works in the collection – it’s as if the artists are his children and he’s the proud parent. Art conjures up different things to different people, and as tour guide Larry offers his own insights but allows others to say how a work’s message might appear to them. He says, “I think art can leave a personal space to think about what it means to you.” The Fields are regularly generous with their time and their knowledge, leading tours of their home for groups interested in contemporary art. Marilyn admits that though she’s a very private person, “I want someone to come here and really learn, to think this is it.” Larry adds, “As an art collector, I think you have a responsibility to know the art and to also open up your home and be able to share it and help others learn. You must know about the artists and understand their work and why it’s here.” Of course, the ultimate paired Maurizio Cattelan’s marble Everyone is Broke with Tony goal of collecting is appreciation and enjoyment. Together Marilyn Larry Tasset’s colored rocks. In the forefront is one of Nick Cave’s soundsuits. and Larry agree, “It’s about not taking yourself too seriously. That’s what it’s all about – fun.”
Left: Anish Kapoor’s sphere hangs on a wall in the gallery. Right: In the Fields’ living room a Kendell Carter ottoman provides a whimsical extra place to sit. One of Marc Swanson’s antlers is on the coffee table among a trio of sculptures.