What kinds of paintings fill your home?
The art in our home can be mostly classified into two buckets: the historical and the contemporary. I acquired the historical works during the decade in which I maintained a fine art gallery adjacent to Miami’s Alhambra Antiques, known as European Fine Art. Our collection at home ranges from a 17th-century Madonna and Child (an oil on copper) to an early-20th Post-Impressionist landscape. The majority of the contemporary pieces are the works of Miami-based and/or Cuban artists, a reflection of our hometown and my heritage.
Give us examples of works from each group.
I’ve always had a painting of a Madonna and Child in my bedroom, some versions more primitive, some more refined. I come from a Catholic family, and I remember receiving my first one as a gift from my parents around the time of my confirmation. Now that I’m a mother myself, the subject has become even more meaningful to me–particularly during those inevitable parenting challenges. The current piece is from Spain, late 18th century. It’s suffered quite a bit so has substantial craquelure (cracking on the surface), but I don’t mind because the expressions of the both the Virgin and the Infant Child speak to me in their peaceful solemnity.
In the hallway on the way to my bedroom is a study by the French painter Georgette Agutte, who was a close friend and classmate of Henri Matisse when they were pupils under Gustave Moreau at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. She was later married to a prominent politician and writer, Marcel Sembat, and together they were important patrons of the rising avant-garde artists of the time, including Georges Rouault, Paul Signac, and Albert Marquet. The best of their collection can be seen at the Musée de Grenoble and their home, known as the Maison Agutte-Sembat is also a museum, not far from Monet’s home in Giverny.
How did you find the Agutte piece?
In 2003, I had the incredible privilege of stumbling upon a collection of her works that some of her heirs had just deaccessioned–an art-world term that means they were released from a library, museum, or a private collection–and were on the open market for the first time since her death in 1922. Among the many works of hers that I acquired and sold over several years was a series that documented the flooding of the Seine River as seen from her home in Bonnieres-sur-Seine. The piece I kept was a study for the series, “Les Inondations.” When you’re a young gallerist, you always want to keep the best works but aren’t always in the position to, so lesser works such as this study can be kept as wonderful souvenirs. My Agutte piece reminds me of that amazing opportunity to have acquired and represented works by such an amazing and inspirational woman.
Tell us about how you discovered Georgette Agutte.
I had just arrived in Lyon for a buying trip after my honeymoon to Paris and the Loire Valley. The main stretch of antique dealers in Lyon is the Rue Auguste-Comte, but I turned off this street onto the Rue Remparts d’Ainay. I wandered by myself to the window of a shop I hadn’t seen before, and there was a stunning painting of a woman nursing a child, “La Maternité.” I was overcome by emotion, and I knew this painting would be the central piece of my next exhibition. I knew nothing of its creator, but the emotion that the work emanated–her bare, copious breasts, her tired and yet joyful expression, a child that seemed to overtake her both physically and emotionally–it moved me. Another important thing began that day: a long relationship with this gallerist who would work with me to source works and build collections for nearly a decade, and a friendship that I hold dear to this day. I eventually sold the painting to a client who felt just as moved as I did by it, and it holds a prominent position in her collection amidst a beautiful collection of works including several works by Agutte.
What about some of the contemporary works in your home?
In my time as a gallerist and a young arts patron in Miami, I’ve collected some works from local artists who are now also friends. One such artist is Asser Saint-Val, a Haitian artist for whom I organized an exhibition in the summer of 2010 entitled, “The Melanin Project.” This series of Asser’s work is a bit of reality spun into a whimsical character, which spoke to me when I saw it. The series represents surrealist personages who were constructed from common objects and shapes that resemble food. He even incorporated some food into the media, such as ground coffee for texture. Asser hesitated to show his works in a non-traditional gallery space, but once he saw the way they could be juxtaposed with some of the very elements used to create his fictional characters, he loved and appreciated the tension between a vintage kitchen utensil and his painting which included one. I loved incorporating humor into my installations, and I felt that he had embodied that sense of blurring the lines between practicality and fiction. Two of these “characters” are now in our living room.
Another special piece is a limited-edition lithograph, from my cousin, Humberto Calzada, a very well-known Miami-based Cuban-American artist, a gift to us when we got married. It’s entitled “The Strength of Solitude,” which was an interesting theme to consider upon celebrating marriage. Humberto is best known for incorporating Cuba’s neoclassical and colonial architecture and landscapes into his work.
What inspires you to buy art? How does it influence your quality of life?
For me the arts–music, dance, and painting–have always been an integral part of my life. Surrounding ourselves with art helps each of us in our personal journeys to understand our own emotions, experiences, and existence. When I see a work that transports me to another place, or provokes me to consider an idea, I want to keep coming back, and so, if feasible, I’m inspired to buy the work and live with it for as long as possible.