A rriving at The Mallin Collection at Buckhorn Sculpture Park, in Pound Ridge, NY, feels like discovering hidden treasure. The 15-acre property, owned by Joel and Sherry Mallin, is dotted with giant outdoor sculptures from their personal collection. Inside the large white barn at the park’s center, a high-ceiling space is filled with some of the most important names in contemporary art, lovingly assembled by the couple over 30 years. Now, this February sees 31 magnificent works from the collection come to auction at Sotheby’s.
This is sculpture as it is meant to be seen. Many of the works were created specifically for the upstate landscape – monumental sculptures inserted among the property’s trees and crags. Many of the works were commissioned by the Mallins, making them very personal to the collector couple, who hopes the new owners will carry on the legacy of their creation.
“A number of artists have been very close to us for 30 or 40 years,” says Sherry Mallin. “They are like family members.” She says that selling the collection now feels correct. “My husband and I are 89, and we have not been able to do as many tours,” she continues, noting the two-part auction is a sign of respect to art that’s meant to be seen and experienced. “We don’t like to keep everything in storage.”
Joel and Shery Mallin first met when they were children, and found each other again in their forties. Art was always central to their relationship, and text works by Jack Pierson (FATE, 2004) and Tim Noble and Sue Webster (Forever, 1996) were acquired as romantic gifts to each other. Yet the duo cannot choose their favorite works from the intimate sales. “It’s like asking which of my children is my favorite,” Sherry points out.
Their collection is a who’s who of the past three decades of North American and European art: Robert Irwin, Sol LeWitt, Carl Andre, Anthony Gormley, Kiki Smith, Jaume Plensa, Jeppe Hein, Dan Graham. “We started with six or eight sculptures,” Sherry recalls. “We opened the house to a charity day for the Stanford Museum, and the invite called it the Buckthorn Sculpture Park. We thought that was very funny. We just added one piece after another.”
Many of the works were purchased in Europe at Basel, Cologne and ARCO, alongside fairs in New York. Among the largest pieces are some large-scale bronze works, including outdoor works by Alijca Kwade, César, Joel Shapiro and William Kentridge. There is a playfulness to many of the works – as in a comfy decorative sofa by Liz Craft called Love Seat (2006), a giant chess pawn by Patrick Strzelec (1996) and a notable hot water bottle with legs by Erwin Wurm (2014). There’s also a large number of smaller indoor sculptures in the sales. Some of the stand-out works include Mirror, mirror (2002) by Olafur Eliasson; humorous takes on the readymade from Tom Sachs and Hans-Peter Feldmann; and imaginary figures from a younger generation of artists, Francis Upritchard, David Altmejd and Matthew Monahan.
The Mallins were not afraid to choose works that are difficult. The figure is at the heart of their collection; both auctions are filled with hands, bodies and faces – at times playful, at times unsettling. These are works that are unafraid to explore the viscerality of the human experience, made by artists who have pushed its representation.