This fall art advisor Kim Heirston opened her regal Upper East Side townhouse to the public to share her little known suite of paintings by Francesco Clemente called Dormiveglia. The words statuesque and classical aptly describe both the feminine goddess figures in this series of Clemente’s work, as well as Kim herself, who’s striking figure exudes grace and a quiet confidence that comes from being at the top of her game.I was fortunate to have a private viewing of these mysterious and symbolic paintings that contain Clemente’s signature self-assured, efficient gestures. The luscious surfaces of the Dormiveglia series line the walls of Kim’s second floor like immersive Rococo wall-panelling. Dormiveglia alludes to dream-like consciousness transporting you to a place that exists between the mythological world of times past and the terra firma of the present moment. Clemente has a way of creating timeless narratives and spaces. On the occasion, I swathed myself and Kim in the timeless and easy elegance of AWAVEAWAKE. A touch Edwardian but with the freedom of a specific bohemia, the designer’s background in sculpture and art history along with her focus on environmental consciousness from concept to completion makes this line a stand out. Post shoot, I sat down to chat with Kim about how she came into possession of this special series of works. We also discussed her idea of good art, collecting and the importance of contemporary and historical knowledge about art.
Pari Dust: When and how did you become interested in contemporary art?
Kim Heirston: I was surrounded by art since childhood. My mother painted, and had a close circle of artist friends. During my first semesters as an undergraduate at Yale, I had actually intended to study theater. However, I remember doing a 180 to art history after taking a course on art after 1970, taught by Professor Anne Gibson. She would take our class on fantastic trips to New York to see au courant shows by such artists as Jim Dine and Chuck Close. After declaring art history as my major, I spent my junior year abroad in Florence, writing my thesis on Ghirlandaio’s magnificent frescoes in Santa Maria Novella. From there, I jumped head first into the New York gallery world, working at Pace, Robert Miller, and, finally, as Director at Stux Gallery. The rest is history…
When you decided to branch out on your own what made you choose the path of art advisor as opposed to opening your own gallery?
In 1992, I remember watching a number of artists jump from one gallery program to the next. At the time, I found it deeply disconcerting. To me, there has always been something very unsettling about the thought of building a close relationship with an artist, and nurturing his or her career from the beginning, only to have them decamp down the line for someone, or something, better. Perhaps others would take this “break up” better than I would. In the same vein, working as an independent advisor inherently allows more control. I not only choose the clients I wish to work with, but also, the artists whose work I support and place. Never would I want to feel pressure to feign excitement over work in which I do not believe wholeheartedly.
What are some of the greatest difficulties that come with your job?
Being everywhere at once!
There’s a lot to know when it comes to buying contemporary art such as what the current conceptual trajectories are, how contemporary art connects to the past, how one artist has influenced another, not to mention the complex business of acquiring art. When it comes to building a relationship with your clients, how much of your job is that of educator?
I would like to think that it’s 99%.
What factors do you consider when putting together a collection?
First and foremost, I consider my clients’ tastes—their art-historical and aesthetic proclivities. Some clients have a very clear sense of which artists, or periods, they gravitate to the most. However, in most cases, establishing a client’s interests and vision takes time, and multiple trips to museums, gallery exhibitions, art fairs and auction previews. Of course, when appropriate, we also encourage artist studio visits.
Apart from taste, there are the more practical factors of financial considerations, space, and setting. For instance, if my clients have young children, I wouldn’t necessarily point them in the direction of acquiring a work such as Joseph Kosuth’s LEANING GLASS. Space is also, of course, a very important parameter. You think you’ve found the perfect work in terms of art historical significance, provenance, value, and condition until the molding in your client’s prewar building is a half-inch too narrow!
Is diversification important in a collection? Is it important that the artists and works in a given collection have some kind of coherent relationship with each other?
Absolutely. I describe this cohesion as “connecting the dots.” One of my clients, who is actually being honored at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, has maintained a strong collecting focus on American modern art. He started with such American Modernists as Marsden Hartley and Georgia O’Keeffe, and, later, expanding into the contemporary realm, to artists like Alex Katz and Andy Warhol. My dream has always been to help my clients realize that they can acquire works by Turner and Rothko, AND display both artists in the same room.
You’ve opened your elegant home to the public to exhibit a stunning suite of never before seen Francesco Clemente paintings. What’s the history behind this work and when and how did you acquire it?
I have had the pleasure of knowing Francesco for over twenty years, now. Apart from placing a number of important works, and collaborating on several portrait commissions (including mine), Francesco has become a very dear, personal friend.
I first laid eyes on the artist’s DORMIVEGLIA paintings while visiting Francesco’s studio, over a decade ago. Since then, I have been obsessed with this series. The paintings were made in 1998, the year before the opening of his major survey exhibition at the Guggenheim. At the time, Francesco was the youngest artist ever to receive a full-museum retrospective at the museum.
Shortly after receiving this weighty honor, Francesco began painting his DORMIVEGLIA. He described this body of work to me as an attempt to ground himself in his Mediterranean past. It Italian, “DORMIVEGLIA” connotes a state of semi-wakefulness – that moment just before you wake up, or that delicious state of meditation. For almost twenty years, these paintings have been hibernating in Francesco’s studio. Needless to say, it has been a dream of mine to show these paintings with Francesco – particularly at the townhouse.
What‘s the difference between and good piece of art and a great one for you?
The pulse quickens, the breath deepens, the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. How do you define great sex? When you experience it, you just know.