Originally published in Patron magazine. Photography by Maxine Helfman
If you conjure a notion of what a cinematographer’s agent who hails from Los Angeles looks like, chances are you might imagine someone remarkably similar to Christen Wilson. She’s slight, blonde, immaculately pulled together, and has eyes so deeply blue that they call to mind Mediterranean waters. During our conversation in her home—which could easily duel with A-list Manhattan galleries for dibs on art cachet—she exudes an infectious enthusiasm for contemporary art. While she’s the mother of three and wife of fellow art collector and entrepreneur Derek Wilson, she makes plenty of time to devote herself to an array of philanthropic endeavors on an international scale. She also moves from topics regarding art in Zurich, London, Berlin, New York, and Los Angeles to architects, galleries, and museums in the Dallas area with remarkable ease. Thus, she’s an extraordinary combination of world traveler/art aficionado and beguiling conversationalist.
She’s looking forward to her new role in the upcoming TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art charity event and she’s bringing with her an impressive amountof experience working for laudable causes. Wilson currently serves on the International Council for the Tate Modern in London as well as the North American Acquisitions Committee for the Tate. In May 2013, she was named Co-Chair for the Tate Artists Dinner in New York and is a member of The Vogue 100 list. As if that’s not enough, she is also Chairman for the Nasher Sculpture Center Program Advisory Committee. Thus, amfAR (The Foundation for AIDS Research) and the arts are currently resting in competent—not to mention meticulously manicured—hands.
Wilson is nothing if not an indefatigable fundraiser. Says she: “This anniversary event for TWO X TWO makes it particularly exciting. It’s a chance to set higher goals and raise millions more dollars for these very special causes.” In case you think there is an error in denoting multiple millions of dollars for amfAR and the DMA arts cause, rest assured that she didn’t misspeak. The Dallas effort has led the nation in fundraising for this particular venue for years. In fact, the only rivals that top the city in North Texas are places like, well, Cannes, the glitzy venue for the internationally renowned film festival. Apparently, when the celebrities opt to show off their cash they’re the only folks who manage to fill coffers more plentifully than Texans. That being said, the event in Dallas has already garnered contributions in excess of $40 million since its inception 14 years ago. Now it’s gaining momentum with yearly donations topping a staggering $5 million mark. No doubt the upcoming 15th anniversary promises even more jawdropping contributions for what is perhaps the single most glamorous charity hosted in a city known for its high-stakes penchant for giving to causes worthy of serious funding.
Sponsors for the event include a host of showy brands. However, it should be noted that the chichi logos and enterprises are met with equally impressive VIP guests. Past events have been attended by a variety of luminaries including Sharon Stone, Sigourney Weaver, Shirley MacLaine, Liza Minnelli, Dita Von Teese, and Patti LaBelle.
The roster of artists who have been honored at the event is just as distinguished. Among other heavyweights, they include Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha, Julian Schnabel, April Gornik, Joel Shapiro, Cecily Brown, Christopher Wool, and Peter Doig. Wilson notes that Howard Rachofsky named Luc Tuymans as the recipient of the 2013 amfAR Award of Excellence for Artistic Contributions for the Fight Against AIDS. The artist, based in Belgium, is one of the most prominent contemporary painters. His work is a staple in leading public and private collections throughout the world and, since the ‘70s, Tuyman’s signature muted canvases have been described as “stripped down to minimal signifiers (that) often involve a secondary, introspective narrative.” He draws upon a confluence of Flemish Old Master paintings and contemporary mass media and uses pre-existing imagery that he subsequently morphs into his own brand of deeply unsettling work. Tuyman will be joined by a number of other artists including Nathan Carter, Kathryn Andrews, and Alexander Kroll, as well as others yet to be announced.
Wilson is clearly enthusiastic about the artwork that’s going to be on hand for the event. She unequivocally states, “My favorite part of TWO x TWO is the art auction. It is world-class, and the work that the artists give for the auction is solid. I have never seen another charity art auction that compares to it!” This is a statement that carries unusual heft, since she’s witnessed plenty of other events at a broad array of venues. In fact, Wilson takes her cues from the best of the best when it comes to art advisors. Namely, Beatrix Ruf, director and curator of the Kunsthalle Zürich and Mark Godfrey, curator for the Tate Modern, are two people for whom she “has great respect.”
They’ve exerted considerable influence over her own formidable collection and continue to assist her when it comes to adorning her walls with what can only be described as a thoroughly delectable collection of stellar art. She admires Godfrey’s dedication with regard to “learning about an artist” and subsequently notes that she likes to do the same. “We seem to like a lot of the same artists and love to share information. It makes it fun and engaging!” Meanwhile, she states that she admires Ruf “as a curator and a woman. She’s a genius at spotting talent and her ‘eye’ in the art world intrigues me. Beatrix is unique and someone to learn from, which I do by simply watching her and listening. She’s thoroughly honest about what she likes — and what she doesn’t.”
In fact, when it comes to choosing pieces for her own collection, Wilson is likely to turn to a varied and impressive roster of high-octane talent that runs the gamut in terms of subject matter, media, and stylistic quirks. Her list of favorites reads like a who’s who of contemporary art. Among them are Phyllida Barlow, Adam McEwan, Alex Israel, Eddie Peake, Matthew Brannon, Valentin Carron, Rebecca Warren, Rachel Harrison, Helen Marten, Kathryn Andrews, Wade Guyton, Aaron Curry, Christopher Wool, and Nate Lowman. While the list may be somewhat long, all I can say is: You should see her home. The artwork is periodically ferried out so that a fresh cache of work can be ushered in.
With regard to galleries in Dallas, Wilson is optimistic. “I believe there will be more Dallas galleries opening as a younger population of collectors grow,” she says. And she’s very clear on what is sometimes deemed a touchy question: Why do serious collectors go abroad for work instead of buying from local galleries? Her response is both direct and completely logical. “When you collect something, you will go anywhere to find it. We recently bought something from a Tokyo gallery that represents a Los Angeles artist that we collect. Similarly, we recently purchased a favorite New York artist from a Paris gallery. My point is: artists choose their gallery and, to me, the location of the gallery isn’t important. What I focus on is the work I’m getting.”
I would be remiss if I failed to mention that she has a graphite work by Adam McEwan in her dining area. Fittingly, it’s a water fountain, a deeply smudged metaphor for life-affirming waters that offers a marvelous counterpoise to a sparkling aqua pool a few yards away. Her home is a crazily gorgeous blend of art and design in an ambiance of welcoming graciousness. In fact, if you get a full tour, you’ll even experience a remarkably complex fragrance. As it turns out, it emanates from an oil secured from her favorite Parisian home away from home, Hôtel Costes—which, fittingly, shares space in the same arrondissement as the Louvre.
Put candidly, it’s likely that this year’s TWO x TWO event will blow past former high-water marks for cash. Wilson notes that she has unflagging admiration for Cindy and Howard Rachofsky and that it was “a great honor to be asked to chair TWO x TWO.” Well, no doubt. But I think they’ve latched their (bejeweled) wagon to a star this year in the form of a petite blonde. I can’t imagine a better cause for funding—or a better reason to celebrate a city that, if Wilson is any indication, is becoming more and more interesting. She’s raising the bar for funding while simultaneously ratcheting up the amiability factor. Wilson is exactly what Dallas needs. She’s utterly sophisticated without being stuffy. Zurich will just have to wait for her return while we bask in the unalloyed pleasure of her remarkable—and very gracious—company.