S otheby’s is honored to introduce the Collection of Donna and Howard Stone, a stunning, intergenerational range of Contemporary artworks of exceptional form and media. Over the course of thirty years, Donna and Howard Stone amassed an unparalleled collection focused primarily on Minimal and Conceptual art. With their keen eyes and empathetic nature, the Stones were pillars of the Chicago arts and cultural community, passionately supporting local arts organizations, museums, and artists for which they long admired. Donna began her relationship with the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago as a docent, before ultimately serving on their board. Donna and Howard also became two of the most generous donors to The Art Institute of Chicago, where Howard proudly served as the head of the acquisitions committee and on the board, and where the video gallery is named in their honor. The Stones were two incredibly passionate people.
Central to their collecting philosophy was the close friendships they developed with the artists themselves, a testament to the Stone’s warmth and genuine appreciation of process. From Jim Hodges, who painted the couple’s portrait in their Chicago living room, to James Turrell, who envisioned a unique skyspace for the Stone’s home in Arizona, to Sol LeWitt, who personally drafted one of his famed Wall Drawings in their Chicago bedroom, these friendships reflect the revered dedication and personal investment evident in the Stone’s bespoke collecting methodology. Their pure love for art and the conversations they fostered is ever present, their collection a timeless representation of 20th century artistic mastery. The Collection of Donna and Howard Stone is a dedication to the pair’s generosity, kindness, and clear vision, superbly emblematic in the presented works being offered throughout Fall 2023 in our Contemporary Curated and Contemporary Discoveries sales in September, as well as our Contemporary Day and Contemporary Evening sales in November.
Sotheby’s is excited to share a conversation with Donna and Howard Stone’s daughter, Julie, and grandchildren, Joel, Jordan, and Jennifer, who graciously shared nostalgic stories and reflected on the collection.
Q: How did your parents and grandparents begin collecting? What was it that drew them to art in the first place, and what was it that kept them going deeper?
Julie: They just loved art and everything about it. My mom was a school nurse when I was in high school, but when she stopped working, she started as a docent at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Then when my dad was 62, he retired, so they started going on art trips that the Art Institute of Chicago sponsored. They started traveling, and everything was art related; that was all they did. They started buying prints—I remember a Miró print, a Jim Dine print—and what they could afford at the time. And when my mom got really involved as a docent, they started going to lectures and joined the Society for Contemporary Art, then my mom got on the women’s board at the MCA. That’s how it evolved. It was a “hobby" for them, but almost became a second job. Collecting was pretty all-encompassing. They also really enjoyed having people in their home to see their collection. Their home was almost always open.
Jordan: Yeah, it was also about how they could benefit the community. As I got older, understanding the impact they had on the art community became important to me as an example of what having a community in life can mean.
Joel: They also made a conscious effort to support young, up-and-coming artists as part of this community. Particularly students at the Art Institute– they always supported them.
“A sustained look at Donna and Howard’s collection reveals deep commitments to and friendships with a number of artists.”
Q: What did your parents and grandparents look for in a work of art? What was it that guided their eye through a quite diverse array of artwork?
Julie: They certainly collected artists they felt were important at the time, but they also always collected the work of local Chicago artists. For them, it was more about the artist than the medium; on one end of the spectrum they had a Sol Lewitt Wall Drawing, and on another end they had a huge John McCracken piece in the living room. My mom also loved Anne Truitt’s work. They felt they had to have a connection to the artists, and that was especially true with the Chicago artists. If there was a gallery opening, they would go to meet the artist. Whenever they could develop a relationship with the artist, they did. Knowing the artist just made it more personal to them; that was almost more important to them than anything else.
Jennifer: Yes, their support for Chicago artists was always present. That was definitely a consistent through line throughout their collection, although of course they bought and supported many other artists. It makes me think of a story, actually. When I was in high school, I had a friend come to visit Chicago. I remember calling my grandparents and they said “Oh, come up and say hi! We’re getting our portrait painted.” And I remember thinking that it's so unlike them to sit for a portrait… We went upstairs to say hello and to visit them and they were having their portrait painted by Jim Hodges. It was a series of concentric circles and it matched each of their heights and then it overlapped. It really symbolized their relationship and it made so much sense when we went upstairs that this was their portrait.
Joel: But they were also always asking anytime I looked at pieces with them: “What does this piece make you think?”
Jennifer: Exactly. Some of it was as simple as one of us grandchildren liking something. They took each of us on a trip to London and Paris when we were 13, and I have very vivid memories of going with them to galleries in London. I remember going to a gallery with them during my trip to London; there was a Tom Friedman piece exhibited that I really loved. They bought it for me and hung it on their walls for a long time.
“From the very first time we ventured into the area of serious collecting, we were concerned with finding the threads that connected the work. We were also interested in how the pieces would react to each other as we developed the collection. It has always been our contention that to install works properly we would need to understand why they belonged together. This gave us a feeling of immense comfort when we viewed the art.”
Q: How did they make their collecting decisions together?
Julie: There was a lot of discussion between them. They were very much in sync and always knew what they wanted to look at. Their collecting was really intuitive, and it became reflected in their life. But also their relationships with artists really did guide them at times. And they would often discuss works with James Rondeau, a curator at the time and now the President of the Art Institute of Chicago. They became close after attending trips which he led sponsored by the Art Institute.
Jennifer: I remember when I was in law school, they would come to New York all the time, for gallery openings, for openings of shows at MoMA, and they sometimes took me with them. That was so much fun, both to see them with all their friends and to be a part of their process when they were thinking about buying new art. I loved that, it was just so special to have time with them in New York when I was living there.
Joel: Yes, they loved the art, but so much of it was about the people they met. The artists, the gallery owners, just the joy it brought them. Collecting was something they truly loved and something they truly loved to do together. That's something that has always stuck with me and something that I try to incorporate into my life today. It was really the community and the people that made collecting so special for them. And I think that as they got older, collecting kept them young.
“It has always been our contention that work made by artists living and working in Chicago deserves to be integrated into our collection… We are always looking for Chicago artists to juxtapose some of the international ones we originally found at galleries in Chicago, such as Gonzalez-Torres and Wool… We continue to support the concept of integrating not just artists working here but young artists who are now coming into their own.”
Q: How was your experience growing up surrounded by such incredible art?
Jennifer: We certainly spent a lot of time with our grandparents and with beautiful art on the walls of their homes. I don't know that I necessarily had an appreciation for their impact on the art world and on the Chicago art world in particular until I was older. But it’s true; to have just grown up around all of this art, most of which is now in museums—we were quite spoiled to be able to grow up seeing that every time we went over to see our grandparents.
Jordan: It was really perhaps most evident in their talk about their travels. They would always tell us about their trips, like going to New York or going to Europe and the experiences they had there.
Jennifer: Yeah, that was important. They wouldn't travel somewhere without visiting museums and galleries.
Julie: I often like to joke that I never went to Disney world as a kid, I went to art museums. I remember going to the Art Institute as young as 5 years old.
Jordan: It reminds me of a funny story. I remember my grandma took me and a couple friends to see the Art Institute exhibit of their collection. She started talking in detail about each specific work. And as we were walking through, people thought she was a tour guide and started latching on. I remember we got to the end of the show, and I heard someone say “I wonder what this would look like in your living room.” I don’t think my grandma heard, but I got a good chuckle.