The label collector can convey the notionthat buying and acquiring art is an insularpursuit, reserved for insiders with connec-tions and expensive taste. Collectors Mari-lyn and Larry Fields prove that passion forcollecting and living with art can begin atany age, and their shared enthusiasm is alesson to anyone interested in learningabout contemporary art and the artists whocreate it. Their story of how they filled theirlake front high-rise home with works bysome of the greatest contemporary artists ofour time in a few breathtaking years is aunique inspiration. The art theyve collectedcomplements striking design pieces from the1940s and 50s, filling a busy life withbeauty as well as meaning. The two alsohave a private home gallery devoted to show-ing works from their collection on a rotatingbasis. When I spent time with the Fields ona rainy afternoon one day, I enjoyed keep-ing up with the frenetic conversation andsharing their genuine passion for the artand artists who have touched their lives. -GV
To walk into the home of Marilyn and LarryFields is to enter a tranquil expanse of art.Stepping off the elevator onto their privatefloor, I encountered a towering collage of pho-tographs assembled by Jason Lazarus hun-dreds of images scoured from thephoto-sharing site Flickr, all images of per-sonal experiences during the Iraq war. Thiswas just the first of many powerful pieces Iwould see. As Marilyn told me when we sat to-gether in their round living room overlookingLake Michigan, We certainly live with [art]24/7. Its really become our passion.
Married for 34 years, the Fields say theyve al-ways bought art. If something was visually ap-pealing, theyd buy it. Larry says that at onepoint they were interested in posters and artglass, picking out a piece here or there, but headmits, That was mostly haphazard nothingreally made a collection. They began to aimfor a new level in 2000 after submitting adown payment on a condo in a downtownbuilding designed by French architect LucienLagrange. They didnt move in for five years,but in that period several decisions affectedtheir collecting savvy: they became very in-volved with the Museum of Contemporary Art Marilyn joined the Womens Board in 1998,Larry became an MCA trustee around 2004,and they began attending the annual art ex-travaganza Art Basel Miami in 2002.
The Fields home is a balance of art, architec-ture and contemporary design. Though Mari-lyn and Larry collect as a team, their roles athome with the work are different. Marilyn hastaken great care to develop the character ofthe home through furniture and design, col-lecting 1950s modern furniture as well aspieces by 1940s French designers Jean-MichelFrank and Andr Arbus. When they finallymoved into their apartment in 2005, Marilyndescribes opening up the art and furniture as,One of the most exciting moments wedbought all of these beautiful pieces and theydbeen in storage for years. For Larry, Welooked at which pieces had dialogue with eachother. Its fun buying, but its even more fun in-stalling.
Each piece in their collection exists in relation tothe others around it. According to Marilyn,We love how every piece continues to speakto each other. We try to make it all work. Butmost important, it has to appeal to us. Larrywants to know, Whats the contextual idea?How is it somehow related to society today? Isit process oriented? When you meet an artist,they can open up your eyes to a way youhavent seen the world. Marilyn says: Wevegrown tremendously and become more sophis-ticated collectors because of the MCA. Meet-ing the curators and artists, you really take somuch more away from the art that youre buy-ing. Its given us a different type of focus.Weve also met so many amazing people andmade many friends in the art world, includingother collectors.
The Fields have collected art from many citiesin many countries, but they feel a great deal ofpride for the City of Chicago, as well as an ob-ligation to support its art community. Larryand Marilyn agree that the time seems to beright in Chicago for a boost for some artistsand galleries. Larry points to success stories ofyoung artists like Theaster Gates, RashidJohnson, Angel Otero, Nick Cave, William J.O'Brien, Kerry James Marshall, and DiannaFrid, each of whom have work in the Fieldscollection. To Larry, because of the interna-tional attention these artists have received, hesuspects that people who may have been previ-ously reluctant to purchase work from aChicago gallery (instead of say, in New York)may now have more confidence buying arthere. Larry says he and Marilyn try to supportyounger artists when theyre getting started;for instance they have acquired a piece fromeach of Gates series. Larry states, It takes avillage to support artists here: galleries, artschools, non-profits, museums they all worktogether to create a wonderful experience.
The couple credits the opening of MillenniumPark and the Art Institutes Modern Wingwith finally drawing a more international
crowd to the city. Larry explains, I thinkAnish Kapoors Bean [Cloud Gate] in Millen-nium Park is sort of symbolic of city-widepride. It has drawn people to the city just forthis kind of art experience. Marilyn adds,That was not something that used to happen.The amount of funding the community raisedwas pretty incredible. The gardens, the JaumePlensa Crown Fountain its all perfection.Larry hopes that what has been successfulabout Millennium Park could someday bedone to update other sites in the city as artshowcases, such as the iconic Navy Pier.
Navy Pier will in fact be transformed for aweekend this September when Expo Chicagodebuts, returning an international contempo-rary art fair to a much-loved venue. Marilynrecalls that during Chicagos art fair heydey inthe early 1980s, Vernissage was the party forthe premier contemporary art fair in the world.As part of the MCAs Womens Board, whichis once again hosting Vernissage on September19, she remembers, There was Art Basel inSwitzerland, but not much else. From 1982here until it ended in 2004 it was really phe-nomenal. Galleries who came from around theworld were very, very disappointed when itended. The thought of bringing it back toNavy Pier, where everyones heart was, is ex-citing, and many of those original galleries arecoming back. To run a successful fair now,there is a critical place for a certain scene, andMarilyn agrees that Vernissage is an importantelement that will get people excited about thereturn of the fair.
Having discussed collecting, art in Chicago,and the upcoming Expo, Larry relished theopportunity to introduce a visitor to his fa-vorite works, so I made a concerted effort tokeep pace as he rattled off names of artists andthe story behind each piece. Both Marilyn andLarry have personally placed each work of art,but theyve also largely kept the experience ofothers in mind when deciding where certainworks should be. Certain spaces are meant for
Fall Collector Profile: Marilyn + Larry Fields
A seating area in the Fields private gallery is made up of significant design pieces, as well as Kendell Carters re-upholstered Marcel Breuer Wassily Chairs.
Printed in September-December 2012 issue of Chicago Gallery News. Not to be reproduced without permission from CGN.
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quiet pieces, such as one of Sol LeWitts mini-malist cubic constructions placed in a windowoverlooking the back of the MCA. Nearby is asubtle Fred Sandbeck installation, as well as awork by Italian painter Lucio Fontana. On abench in the entryway is a commissioned bookby Deb Sokolow featuring an amusing con-spiracy story about Larry, a cattle futurestrader, and some cows mysteriously beingfound in a warehouse on the west side ofChicago. Marilyn calls it a clever homage toLarry.
The Fields living room is defined by its fullview of Lake Michigan, but upon closer exam-ination, you find several surprising works ofart and furniture around the room. A footstoolby Kendell Carter, from monique melochegallery, is made of a repurposed an egg cratethat has been painted silver, with a cushionmade from two fabric patterns: a traditionallooking neutral fabric and camoflauge. One ofMarc Swansons smaller rhinestone-encrustedantlers sits on one tiered wood coffee tablewith curving lines, while a small sculpture by
John Chamberlain sitsatop another tablenearby. Pointing out anunusual looking, yel-lowed floor lamp in theliving room, Larry says,Thats a KippenblinkyLight [Martin Kippen-berger] died about 10years ago, give or take,but he did about 10 ofthese lights. Each onehas cigarette butts withsmoking paraphernaliain it. He also incorpo-rated actual Muranoglass from a lamp thathis wife loved - he sortof replicated it and thendid some edgy work onit. I like the idea of look-ing at something veryinteresting the first time,
and then when you go back and look at itagain, theres another story behind it. To-gether all of these works make everything a little less serious.
In the apartments tranquil entryway, mutedby opaque green glass panels, a handful oflarge-scale paintings are meant to make a dra-matic first impression. Mark Tansey is a fa-vorite of the couple. His Utopic, in his signatureinky blue, looms on the wall opposite the frontdoor, featuring a dreamy scene from AnnaFreuds study. Larry notes that the hermaph-rodite statue pictured on the chaise actuallyexists in the Louvre. Freud, Marx and Niet-zsche are looking down from inside their por-trait frames, psychoanalyzing her sexualidentity.
In the Fields long, open dining room, four1970s-looking photographs by Richard Princeare lined up opposite a wall of windows over-looking the Lake. Larry excitedly explainedthe placement, When we have dinner parties,the guests at the table can pick their favoritelady. The ladies are all looking to the left, tothe east in the roo