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Collectors With a Focus on the Contemporary and Conceptual


In their four-story townhouse in the West Village, Marlies Verhoeven and her husband, Jacco Reijtenbagh, have amassed a collection of contemporary art that’s notable for its mixing of artists who are known quantities, like Cecily Brown and Rashid Johnson, with new names such as Royce Weatherly.

The 60 or so pieces are all placed just-so in a sharp, modern design scheme.

Ms. Verhoeven, 37, is the co-founder of the Cultivist, which she describes as “a culture club meets arts concierge service.” The Cultivist charges members a fee and gives them special access to art-world doings. So she interacts with other collectors all the time, and has a good bird’s-eye view of her own trove.

“Most of the work is conceptual in some form,” said Ms. Verhoeven, who used to work in the marketing department at Sotheby’s. She noted one other trait of the collection, which she attributed to her European upbringing (she is of Belgian descent): “There’s a lot black,” she said. “Maybe too much.”

The most prominent example is a black painting executed in tar and feathers by Dan Colen in the living room, “hippity flippity!” (2012), which hangs above an oversized sculpture of a pen by Johannes Albers.

She and Mr. Reijtenbagh, a Dutch-born investor, have three young children, and the kids get to share in the artful life: Their rooms feature animal-themed art by Oliver Clegg and Rob Pruitt.

The couple is sensitive about the content of some contemporary works. “Anything that’s a little too harsh to live with, I put in the office,” Ms. Verhoeven said of the Cultivist’s New York space.

Their combination kitchen-family room has three 2009 pieces by Mel Bochner that may cross the line a bit — they all feature lists of exclamations, from “gee whiz” to “bad ass” to things that cannot be printed in a family newspaper. But the couple uses it as an educational tool. “We say to the kids if they say something bad, ‘that belongs on the wall,’” Ms. Verhoeven said.

In an interview at their home, she elaborated on living with contemporary work. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

I have read that collecting runs in the family for you.

My parents were mostly buying early Impressionists. We really only focus on living artists.

What are the threads running through the collection?

We didn’t have a focus when we first started. And now we’re definitely more into female artists — and we have been for awhile, even before #MeToo. It connects to my experience, having been at Sotheby’s and always wondering: “Why does the room have so few female artists?”

What’s one of those you’d like to highlight?

Well, in the home office we have a Teresita Fern├índez [“Nocturnal (November)” (2014), made up of 30 panels] about moon cycles. It spoke to us. Actually, it spoke to us so much that we saw a similar piece, but we couldn’t get it — it was sold. So we told the gallery, “If anything ever becomes available, we’ll wait for it.” We waited. Two years later, this became available.

Do you often find pieces that way?

I would say 80 percent is from people we’ve met, either through work or the art world generally. I fall in love with the artist, in love with what they’re doing. I’ve been to many of these artists’ studios. We connect a lot more when it’s in person, and we can understand what they’re about and how it’s evolving — even if they’re not good at talking about it, which not all artists are.

Any advice for beginning collectors who don’t have your special access to artists?

We’re not into making a market or following the market — we have things from big-name artists but then also from people you’ve never even heard of. I’ve seen how the market moves up and down. I know that you should never collect for value, because it never actually works out in the end. You should collect because you want to live with it forever.


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