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Derek Wilson began collecting with a painting by Richard Phillips. Christen Wilson started putting art on her walls after being gifted it by artist friends. When the two got together, they began collecting more seriously, finding that they were interested in more minimal works. But the two, now a fixture on in the collecting community of Dallas and internationally (involved in institutions like Tate Modern, the Whitney, The Met, and more), always make sure to keep it fun. Whitewaller caught up with the pair to hear about what they’ve been eyeing lately.
WHITEWALLER: What were your early experiences with contemporary art? Is it something you grew up around?
DEREK WILSON: I didn’t grow up with much art around me in the home, but my parents did take us to museums often in D.C. and New York. I think I always had a minimal, contemporary aesthetic, but just did not realize it and formalize it until I moved to Dallas. My “ah-ha” moment was when I went on an art trip to Seattle with the DMA Junior Associates. I saw collectors’ houses for the first time and was hooked.
CHRISTEN WILSON: Same. I did not grow up with art at all. I think we had real horns from a Texas Longhorn hanging in our family room that my grandfather had sent us. But I did grow up in Los Angeles, and art was all around. Architecture, color, and nature had an impact.
WW: How did you get into collecting? What was your first piece? Do you still have it?
DW: My first real piece was a wonderful painting by Richard Phillips, which I purchased in 1997 from my new friend John Runyon. John had an art gallery in Deep Ellum selling New York artists in Dallas. I love that painting, still have it and hang it. Christen and I have remained great friends with the artist.
CW: Collecting comes naturally for me. I love the educational process and the hunt. I would say my collecting started when friends who were artists started giving me small works. Then when Derek and I met, we got more engaged in collecting as a couple. We got lucky that we both had an eye for painting and also Minimalism.
WW: The Dallas collector community is quite focused in its commitment to supporting local institutions. How would you describe why the community of collectors in Dallas is so special?
DW: Dallas has a great culture of supporting its institutions, charities, and city improvements. That commitment is a valuable thing and is in the DNA of its leaders and its citizens. The collectors support each other, learn from one another, and don’t really compete with one another. The more established collectors are always available for mentoring and advice to those that want it.
CW: I believe if you are involved in something and love it . . . why would you not support it? You’re not only supporting the institution, you’re supporting artists, curators, and exhibitions, and hopefully that all feeds the system. I feel lucky that I live in a city that has a strong artistic drive for greatness.
WW: How would you describe the focus of your collection? Is it important for you to collect artists or certain mediums in depth?
DW: We collect together, and the collection is more a reflection of our journey together then a strategic vision. We span sixties Minimalist artists to very young artists. We tend to be attracted to large-scale works of paintings and sculpture, and we love to get to know the artists if they are open to it.
CW: Yes, I agree with Derek on this. We do not have a certain focus right at this moment, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t one day. The most important thing to me is that we have fun collecting.
WW: You’re both involved in institutions and boards around the U.S. and abroad. I imagine you travel a good amount for art. What’s a show you’ve seen while traveling that you’re still thinking about?
DW: The show that stayed with me awhile is “The Soul of a Nation” at Tate Modern in London. I was moved to be able to see in one show such a rich collection of art and artists from an important American period.
CW: Ditto to Derek on this. “Soul of a Nation” was in London and just opened in Crystal Bridges in Arkansas. That is a great show and one of my favorite painters, Barkley Hendricks, is in it. I also loved Prospect.4 in New Orleans.
Phyllida Barlow, untitled:holesallround 1, 2011.