Though the role of the collector has become increasingly public in the art and auction scene, the function of presenting art at home is still essentially a private affair. And with so many new collectors roving the auctions and fairs, one question arises: How can collectors best display their stuff?
The need for gallery-type settings in the home has not gone unnoticed by real estate developers. But is it better to start with thecollection and build a space around it — or buy a space and then build a collection to go in it? Museums have started in both ways. New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art began as an idea in 1870, and within the year, three private European collection were donated. The collection grew for nearly 10 years before the museum moved to its Central Park home. By contrast, the Art Institute of Chicago was built on rubble from the 1871 fire, and at the time had only a collection of plaster casts to display. By the time the building was completed, the mission was "toacquire and exhibit art of all kinds." Today the same duality is emerging in home design.
Michael Shvo, founder of SHVO, an integrated real estate marketing firm, is offering one part of the answer: gallery style living. In his latest building, at 650 Sixth Avenue, he has partnered with the Jack Shainman Gallery and Perkins Eastman Architects to create luxury residences for the emerging collector. The lobby is a gallery curated by Mr. Shainman where a changing group of works will be presented and will be available for purchase. The exterior of the existing Beaux Arts building will be preserved while the interior is being gutted, with each unit transformed into a white modernist canvas. Just about every inch of the apartments, including the appliances and floors, will be gallery white. The concierge desk in the lobby (a sculptural knockoff of Toyo Ito's building for the luxury retailer Tod's in Tokyo) will be laser cut from aluminum that has been painted a bright, shiny white. Every detail seems designed to disappear once colorful and lively works of art are added.
This is SHVO's first building with such a spare theme. The firm has marketed other residences targeted at design afficianados — with kitchens styled by Jade Jagger and settings designed by Philippe Starck. But the idea of incorporating the anticipated hobby of the occupants into the theme of the building is a step in a new direction. The sales office is replete with a full room media presentation of slickly edited scenes from the neighborhood. It attempts to ground potential buyers in the idea that they are in Chelsea, the heart of the New York gallery scene. This is a bit of a stretch, since the building sits on the eastern edge of Chelsea (just down the street from Bed Bath & Beyond), and anyone who's been in town more than a week knows that the heart of the scene is at least four avenues away — on nearly the other side of the island.
Taking a different approach, Steven Learner Studio has designed spaces for collectors for more than 10 years. His designs are customized to individual clients and their collections; it's the couture version of SHVO's ready-to-buy units. Mr. Learner has designed residences around particular collections, residences for gallery owners, and studios for artists. Currently working on the New York space for Britain's Haunch of Venison Gallery, he has also designed private and commercial galleries. "The firm specializes in art-related projects that surpass the traditional boundaries of residence or gallery to propose a seamless relationship between architecture, art, and living," according to the firm's Web site. This approach puts the SHVO offerings in relief: With Learner designing for the established lifelong collector, SHVO is providing a sort of starter kit. And when it comes to buying artwork, sometimes it helps to see how it appears in a home. At Salon 94, on the Upper East Side, clients can see works by emerging artists in the domestic environment of Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn and Nicolas Rohatyn. The furnished atmosphere creates a warmer setting than the traditional whitebox gallery. It's an approach that works especially well for sculpture or works of multimedia, which may be exciting to see on a gallery wall, but can appear to be a little more aggressive inside the home.
For those who aspire to live with art, this city is full of consultants. One who has paid particular attention to the idea of how we live with art is Andrea Hazen, of Hazen Partners Art Advisory, who has helped collectors at all levels define their strategy and find works that reflect their interests. She has recently started a lecture series aptly titled "Living With Art" that is intended to explore how new ideas in art and architecture intersect with everyday life. Part of the motivation behind this series is to connect artists with collectors — who might find it difficult to respond to abstract works in an isolated gallery space. "If you know who the artist is, you become more engaged with the work," she said.
And when that happens, the living space you're in will just have to do. No matter what the décor, a piece of art is right for you, Ms. Hazen said, "If it makes your heart beat a little faster."