Property from the Collection of Ginny Williams
Committed to the art of our time, Ginny Williams has been blessed with twin benefits from that passion. She has had the pleasure of living with collections of singular beauty and importance, as well as the experience of sharing her life with a group of extraordinary artists. Not all collectors share the company of artists, it should be said, but Williams has made that a crucial aspect of her activity as a collector. The result is a collection that reflects a lifetime of pleasurable human relationships and aesthetic joys.
Ginny Williams graciously consented to an interview earlier this year with Mark Rosenthal, Senior Vice President at Christie's, to discuss her life in art.
MR: Where are you from?
GW: I'm from Virginia.
MR: You have that beautiful Virginia accent. Are you from the area that Cy Twombly is from?
GW: Yes, he lives just over the hill from me. He's from Lexington and I'm from near Charlottesville - Gordonsville.
MR: When did you go west?
GW: I came west in 1957, so I've been here a long time. But I still own the family farm in Virginia, and have ties there. I married a westerner, and we have two children who live close to me in Denver. Their names are Mike and Payne.
MR: You fly your own plane?
GW: Not now, I fly with a copilot. When you have a two-engine plane, you need two people. When I had my children, I stopped flying alone, not because I was afraid, but because I just didn't have time to fly a lot.
MR: You box, too?
GW: I did it for exercise, but not professionally!!
MR: What is your publishing activity?
GW: I have a company that publishes small art books. I published Roni Horn's books, To Place which is a series on her experience in Iceland. I did a book on Ruth Bernhard. She is a photographer from San Francisco and my first love. Bernhard was in that California school of west coast, black and white photographers surrounding Weston. In my very first gallery exhibition I borrowed her Classic Nude. I now own it.
MR: Tell me about your interest in photography?
GW: I have always loved photography. When I was in the fourth grade, I worked all summer for my grandfather just to get a camera. I collected photographs from second-hand stores and flea markets, before photography came into to its own. Luckily, I was just in the right place at the right time in the 1970s. It was my first collecting experience.
MR: When did you open your gallery?
GW: I opened it in 1987 when my children went off to school. There was a need for a photography gallery in Denver and I started one. After the gallery became national and international, I became interested in painting and sculpture.
MR: How did that come about?
GW: I was walking through Robert Miller's gallery one day, and was really interested in Joan Mitchell's art. I happened to see in the gallery The Museum of Modern Art's catalogue of Louise Bourgeois. I was so taken with it that I snitched the catalogue. I later told Robert Miller that he'd never made so much money from one theft in his whole life. I was fascinated with Louise Bourgeois and still am.
MR: Who else interested you at first?
GW: Besides Joan Mitchell, I was interested in various other women, for instance, Lee Krasner and Alice Neel, and other women painters who weren't at their peak yet. I had my painting and sculpture collection take off together, but I still loved photography. I knew I was a collector when Louise Bourgeois said "I think you wear two hats and your biggest hat is as a collector."
MR: Your relationship with these artists is such a crucial part of your activity.
GW: When I first became interested in Louise's work, I didn't want to meet her for a while. I just wanted to be alone with the work. Afterwards, she and I became close friends and she has stretched my soul and my mind. I think Louise and Roni Horn and Ann Hamilton are the most intelligent people I know.
I became excited by the work of Roni Horn and Ann Hamilton, and I've tried to collect them in depth. It's so interesting to get to know artists and watch their progress. Ann Hamilton did installations and that was new to me. She taught me a whole new way of experiencing art, she is magic. And Roni's minimalism has helped to clarify my life.
MR: How did your gallery activity come to an end?
GW: I was never very good at selling anything. For example, I was working with a curator/dealer who asked me to have lunch with some people in order to convince them that Bourgeois was a good person to collect. I told them "don't buy that because I'd love to have that in my own collection." That's a good example of how I just didn't belong in the gallery business. I hated the process of selling. I think collectors have a disease they can't help.
I was more passionate about the way art is presented, and the way people look at and share it. I think collectors should share art if they're lucky enough to own it. That can be a full time job. My foundation loans things to museums and all over the world. I'm very interested in installation, in particular. I helped Louise put up her work in Spain and at the Tate Modern. I think I'd be an art handler if I had time for another career. I love the installation part.
MR: Describe the process of falling in love or buying a work of art.
GW: I think the art finds you when you're a collector. I love to look at art, and to look in lots of places. You might think to yourself "I have to have that," because it speaks to you.
MR: Do you ever see something and think that it would add to the overall view of the artist you have already created in the collection? GW: No I was never that calculating. My collections just evolved.
MR: What about the minimalist side to your collection?
GW: It came with Roni Horn, who pushed me towards Donald Judd. One thing leads to another in collecting. Through Minimalism came my love of abstraction, which just spoke to me. I began to appreciate Agnes Martin's minimalism. I was influenced by her, her precision and thinking, and her consistency. I helped sponsor a lecture she gave once in which she said "I'm no good at color." I thought "you're excellent at color!" I think a relationship with an artist can help you to see better. Artists are wonderful.
MR: What's it been like to live with art?
GW: I think it's hard to find the right place for things, and hanging is very important. Once a work finds the right spot in your house then that's it. I bought a Rauschenberg and it took me two years to put that in just the right place. Now it has its place. You know immediately and you get used to those things being there. The Museum of Modern Art used to have its collection in the same places; every time I'd go back to New York to see them was like seeing old friends. I have an Alice Neel that hangs in the hallway; I can't imagine it not being there. I put my first Bourgeois in my hall because Louise had said that when she grew up there was always a piece of sculpture at the base of her stairway, like an observer. Mine is still in the same spot, where I put it when it came home. It is titled "The Observer."
MR: Does your foundation have a stated purpose?
GW: Yes, to enhance the art scene of Denver, and to bring art to Denver that would not otherwise come. We do this with our exhibition space. When I started the foundation, I thought about the many children to feed in the world, and that there are so many things to do in the world, and I wanted to give back to the world. Finally I decided, and I feel very at peace with the decision, that showing art is a good thing to give back to the world because it really does influence people and I had a Joel Peter Witkin show once in Denver. A young man, who came in frequently, said to me, "I have been here three times and I am not coming anymore. This work upsets me." I said, "you have just paid me a great compliment. I want to show art that disturbs and asks questions and makes people feel, and also, be happy."
MR: Tell me a little bit about the Sante Fe art scene.
GW: I think that Sante Fe has a very active art scene, and has been a good place to show contemporary art. The light is so beautiful and so many people come there to view art.
I was the first chairperson and helped raise money for Site Sante Fe. It has gone on to do what I had hoped: to give a voice for contemporary art in the town. Site Sante Fe was a big part of my experience in that city.
MR: Were you also active with the Denver Art Museum as well?
GW: Yes I am on the board of the Denver Art Museum, and we are building a new building for contemporary art. It is a very exciting event for the city and a thrill for me to work with Daniel C. Libeskind.
MR: Aren't you currently preparing a book?
GW: My next book is about women artists over the age of eighty. I find these people have remarkably consistent and clear minds.
MR: Tell me about your interest in Ellsworth Kelly.
GW: After I first saw Ellsworth Kelly's work, I drove all the way from Santa Fe to Denver alone, and all I could see were his shapes in the landscapes. Great artists raise up feelings like that in you. They help you see the world, to really see the world.
Property from the Collection of Ginny Williams