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Contemporary Art

Jill Kargman and Will Kopelman On Family and Art

Meet Jill Kargman and Will Kopelman, the curators who have chosen their favourite works from our upcoming Contemporary Curated sale. Born and raised in New York, the siblings come from an art-loving household. Here they share their thoughts on family, the importance of collecting and the art and artists that inspire them.


Has art and collecting always been a part of your life?

Jill Kargman: Oh yeah, since the stork landed. My parents have always collected art. Even when they couldn't splurge on anything they tended to buy a drawing or watercolor – not as an investment or part of the décor but truly as an object to enjoy every day. When I was little, my dad would pick me up and stand in front of a picture and really examine the details. He calls it “visiting a picture.” Now he does that with my kids.

Will Kopelman: Yes. Collecting has been a huge passion of our parents, who were both art history majors – needless to say, it rubbed off. When most kids spent their weekends at playgrounds or theme parks, our parents took us to museums and auction houses. They wanted to share this passion with us, and it worked. Although ironically we collect vastly different artworks.

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What about art inspires you the most?

Kargman: I feel lucky that I inherited my parents’ ability to not be swayed by popular opinion and love what I love; I tend to be inspired the most by artists with incredible precision and draughtsmanship versus the hot trend, but sometimes they overlap. Not to be one of those idiots who say “I could do that!” but...I’m not as inspired when I could do that.

Kopelman: There are two. The first is skill, plain and simple. When an artist knows how to use a brush, you can see it. And that doesn’t necessarily mean formal training – Adele probably didn’t have to go to music school to learn how to sing, nor did Woody Allen take any screenwriting seminars. All great artists have innate talent, but they were also dedicated enough to intensely perfect it with thousands of hours. And from a collecting standpoint, I think we’re seeing people return to appreciating actual skill versus the conceptual. The second is surprise. The element of surprise and the unexpected has been one of the most important factors in creating a masterpiece, period.
 

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Who is your favourite artist?

Kargman: Albrecht Dürer. His etchings are insane.

Kopelman: There are too many to have one favourite. But if I were to keep it limited to artists working today, I’d have to say that Ed Ruscha is my favorite living artist. I’m always looking forward to what he does next.

Tell us about your collecting interests.

Kargman: I tend to be drawn to works on paper or things that are very graphic, often black and white, letters and numbers, vivid calligraphic ribbonry as well as moody, thorny gothic images. I have two Edward Gorey etchings that I’m obsessed with, the letter K, my Tauba Auerbach, stuff that’s achingly beautiful but haunting at the same time. I love skulls and bare black branches and gloomy landscapes.

Kopelman: They are broad. I think it it pointless to collect just modern or contemporary art without giving it some juxtaposing context. It is exactly why Sotheby's catalogs always reference comparative works from art history. Collecting should be the same. I personally have an eclectic collection where I like to mix post-war/contemporary paintings with African, Pre-Columbian, a Greco-Roman antiquity.

When most kids spent their weekends at playgrounds or theme parks, our parents took us to museums and auction houses. They wanted to share this passion with us, and it worked.
Will Kopelman

What attracted you to the collaboration with Sotheby’s and Contemporary Curated?

Kargman: In the new season of Odd Mom Out we have an art world episode, but it’s more in the gallery space. It’s called “An MFA in BS” and it’s about how some of the artists market themselves. But despite my observations about the art fairs and characters who populate them, I’m drawn to the world and the commerce behind it, which lots garner how much –  the whole thing has always fascinated me. Our parents brought us to auction houses all the time and we were total Sotheby’s rats at the old location! I thought it would be fun to play collector and decide what I'd pick if a Brink's truck of gold bars pulled up to my house. It’s like fake-shopping.

Kopelman: I feel Contemporary Curated is a great starter sale for people who have the bug, and want to learn as they buy.

Have your tastes changed over time?

Kargman: Weirdly, no. The stuff that made me cringe as a kid does still (saccharine Renoirs, loud blobs, insane unlivable megasculpture) and the things I loved then I worship even more, because I see so much junk I cherish the great stuff.

Kopelman: Yes and No. I’ve always been lured by the same artists time and time again...but also I’ve shifted my collection to mixing the old and the new more than I ever did before.

Great collectors are driven by passion for what they covet, and they have a focused eye where one could look at their collection and discern something about their personality. Do they have humour, are they dark, are they romantic – who are they as people?
Jill Kargman

What do you think drives a great art collector?

Kargman: The right motivation: pure enjoyment. I always think of Hannah And Her Sisters (my fave of all time) when Daniel Stern wants to buy a painting to fit directly over his couch, making Simon the artist respond "I DON'T SELL MY WORK BY THE YARD!" I just think there are so many phonies out there who just want recognizable stuff to impress people at a cocktail party like “oh, they have a Hirst” or “is that a Richard Prince?” But it's more like a logo to them. Great collectors are driven by passion for what they covet and they have a focused eye where one could look at their collection and discern something about their personality. Do they have humour, are they dark, are they romantic – who are they as people? Which is why it’s so much fun to see a whole collection together, it's like a keyhole into their lives. Usually the best ones come from people who have a strong sense of self, which is quite rare, as most people are sheep with wallets.

Kopelman: In today’s marketplace, I feel ego is still what drives most big-game art collectors. It always has. But to me, great collectors don’t care what something is worth, or the grand statement it makes. One of the favourite objects I own is a 19th-century ship carpenter’s stand-up tool box. I’ll never know who made the thing, but to me it’s a sculpture. Albert C. Barnes was a visionary collector. He was a brilliant and successful chemist who applied this thinking to art collecting: mixing chemical compounds (or, in his collection’s case, periods of artworks, varying crafts and mediums) and creating something where the whole was larger than the sum of its parts. That’s what a great collector strives to accomplish.
 

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