A RICH TAPESTRY: Houston-based Elizabeth and Barry Young provide insight into their modern and contemporary art collection.
Elizabeth Young is an interior designer. Her husband Barry is a financial adviser. Both are active in the Houston art community: Elizabeth serving on the Board of Trustees of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston and Barry on an acquisitions committee at The Museum of Fine Arts. Both have served on the Collectors’ Committee for the Houston Fine Art Fair.
The couple are collaborators in raising two young daughters, Isabel and Sophia, as well as putting together an eclectic and exciting collection of contemporary art. Barry Young: Our collecting has been an evolution. Shortly after we were married, Elizabeth and I began collecting pieces for our first house. I never grew up with art. Elizabeth and I began discovering it on our own. Then we hired Melissa Grobmyer of MKG Art Management in Houston to work with us. Elizabeth Young: When Melissa set up her own company, getting her to help us was a no-brainer. We’ve been friends for years. She’s helped us put together a cohesive collection, making sure pieces work together and guiding us in the right direction. Melissa has turned us on to artists we might never have found on our own.
BY: One of the first major pieces we bought was Marilyn Minter’s photograph Puddle. We had seen it in Miami when we were at Art Basel with Melissa. A month after we bought it, it was on the cover of Art in America!
EY: I love that photograph, and we have another of Minter’s photographs in the living room.
John O’Hern: When you’re at a big art fair or a gallery, what fi rst attracts you to a piece?
EY: I’m drawn by more of an edge, the unpredictable, in a piece. I think it’s color that attracts me first. We have a David LaChapelle photograph that plays off traditional still lifes and brings in aspects of modern life. What I love about it are the crazy details he has in it.
JO: One of the themes I find in your collection is the use of unusual materials. For instance, a piece above the desk in one of your daughter’s rooms is made of office labels.
EY: Yes. Barry and I liked the work of Alison Foshee so we told her the colors of the room and commissioned her to make something for us. The small pieces beneath it are made of colored thumbtacks on cardboard.
JO: Perhaps the most unusual work you have is Paul Fleming’s piece in the foyer.
BY: That one gets the most reaction. Our daughter’s friends really like it and my financial colleagues think it looks like a regression analysis. [A regression analysis is a statistical technique for estimating the relationships among variables that sometimes looks like a mass of dots along a line.]
EY: We had met Paul and seen his work with Melissa. He’s a really great guy and Barry really wanted something for our house.
BY: The forms are like plaster cups filled with colored resin. Paul came over with different shapes and sizes and modeled the piece on the computer. We were engaged in the general process for over six months. Paul’s original forms were larger and we decided on the smaller ones. Paul likes red and Elizabeth opted for a cherry red. There are 2,000 individual pieces up there.
EY: It took Paul and an assistant a full day to install it.
JO: What will you do when you move?
EY: We’ll take it all down and we have the computer drawings to have it reinstalled. We’ve just bought another of Paul’s pieces from a friend who moved and doesn’t have a place for it. We haven’t installed it here yet.
JO: How do you select the art that you buy?
EY: We decided seven or eight years ago to buy a piece of art for each other at Christmas. We usually agree. Sometimes there is a debate and then we come to an agreement.
BY: Once we went to Miami with Melissa, the hook was in. We buy one piece a year. One year we went to Miami and couldn’t agree on a piece. The two of us have to agree. Sometimes we talk about our options over a glass of wine—or several—and that year we decided there was nothing we had seen that we wanted to pursue.
JO: As an investment adviser, do you buy art for investment?
BY: I don’t think of the kind of collecting we do as investing. We don’t intend to sell anything. I think art can be an investment. Things that are one-of-a-kind or really scarce have value, but the value is subjective. There’s no intrinsic value. When I look at the market for art, I’m sure you can make good investments. To be a good investor in the art market is a huge challenge. Better to just allow serendipity.
JO: You have several Houston artists in your collection. Is that a deliberate theme?
BY: Melissa is based in Houston. When she took us under her wing and gave us a bit of an art education, it was inevitable that we’d see the work of Houston artists. Although we go to Art Basel in Miami and all the peripheral shows, in Houston we often say “Let’s go to a gallery!” We found Howard Sherman in Houston. Houston is one of the real treasures of art community. There is a tremendous pool of talent of new and-up-and-coming artists. They’re a presence here. We want to tap into it.
EY: Barry and I are involved in going to local galleries and are involved in several museums and attend events at other museums. And here, we’re able to get to know the artists.
BY: Being involved at the museums always amazes me. There are so many great artists that laypeople have never heard of. There is a rich tapestry in just modern and contemporary art with new artists coming up all the time. It’s a shifting landscape. It’s fresh and exciting.
EY: We’ve had a ball educating ourselves with Melissa’s help at the art fairs and in our museum work. I feel that what we’ve purchased all works together. We really enjoy what’s happening on our walls.