Contemporary Art

Bold Collectors Who Lived with Art, Inside and Out

By Christine Schwartz Hartley

Through outdoor sculpture and installation, collectors Jerome and Ellen Stern sought to broaden minds, as well as horizons.

NEW YORK – Voracious collectors guided by an unerring eye for quality and fierce intelligence, Jerome and Ellen Stern had a particular inclination for three-dimensional artworks. Sited around some sixteen verdant acres of their property in Westhampton, New York, the striking sculptures and installations – many commissioned – belong to various periods and cultures.

Those same qualities characterize the entirety of the couple’s extensive holdings of art and objects offered in To Live with Art: Property from the Jerome & Ellen Stern Collection, a series of sales that began this past autumn at Sotheby’s New York. Two dozen outdoor sculptures and installations will be among the approximately 160 works being offered in the upcoming sale dedicated to the collection on 5 March. The energy and excitement that drove the Sterns’ collecting life are palpable in these tremendous large-scale pieces. We took a look at these inventive, joyful and at times irreverent works as the Sterns installed them in Westhampton. 


Serge Spitzer

Among several site-specific sculptures made by Romanian-born, New York-based Spitzer, Baumwerk/Treework, 1985–91, paired this 36-foot-tall inverted cone in steel with a fir tree whose expansive branches mirrored the work’s contour. Jerome Stern also commissioned Spitzer, a trusted friend, to design the artbarn, a private gallery space on the Westhampton property used to display his collection of sculpture and photography.


Wang Jin

Consisting of eight hollowed-out rocks into which Wang Jin carved self-portraits, Installation People’s Republic of China, Passport No. 125109, 2004, represents the artist’s quiet protest against his government’s eight denials of his requests for a visa. Each rock is numbered for each of the eight rejections.


Ann-Sofi Sidén

An example of the Sterns’ fearlessness, Fideicommissum, 2000, is a cast-bronze representation of Sidén squatting, eyes closed, as she relieves herself. A feminist response to the famous Manneken Pis fountain in Brussels, her sculpture also comes as an aggressive marking of territory and assertion of artistic ego.


Menashe Kadishman

Originally made for an exhibition in New York’s Central Park that was organised by the Jewish Museum, Kadishman’s Necklace in the Forest, 1970, provoked a preservationist outcry similar to the one that rose up more than 30 years later in response to Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s The Gates. Many years later, the Sterns acquired the work.




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