This profile is part of CULTURED’s 2023 Young Collectors issue!
Do you know Jeff Wall's photograph Parent Child, 2018? It features an angelic toddler, peacefully feigning sleep on the sidewalk beside a clearly frustrated father wearing a “here we go again” expression. The silent scene is at once brutal and beautiful. When serial entrepreneur and investor Ashley Merrill first saw it, she couldn’t help but relate. “I thought, If that isn’t parenting, then I don’t know what is,” says Merrill. The artist, and that image in particular, floated around in Merrill’s subconscious for years, only to resurface during an afternoon of eating and gallery-hopping in Paris with her husband.
What makes the encounter so romantic—and nearly impossible to believe—is that Wall was also in Paris and in the same gallery. Upon learning of his impact on Merrill, the artist made himself available to the couple, fielding their questions about the work. They ultimately bought the photograph and hung it in their home. This is one of the many serendipitous and thought-provoking stories that spill out of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art board member when she discusses her collecting journey. When asked what binds the works in her collection together, she pauses. “I have this company called The Deep. It’s all about the questions that we can ask ourselves to be more philosophical on a day-to-day basis,” she says. “What I love about music is the same thing that I love about painting and photography: all of them have this ability to shift perspective. My favorite artists are the ones that conjure that same questioning, that same philosophical journey.”
One of the things the bona fide disruptor relishes is work that challenges our assumptions about what we think we know. She admires this quality, for instance, in the conceptual work of Jose Dávila. She owns two of the Mexican artist’s works and can imagine herself with more, but each purchase has to have its own logic and a place to live. Merrill does not believe in storing art. She treats each work she buys as an extension of the family, and appreciates all the complications that come with hosting these kinds of permanent relatives.
Of course, this commitment means the barrier for entry is high. Merrill tries to buy thoughtfully, sometimes calling in experts to consult on large purchases. She encourages those just starting out to go slowly and look at emerging practices. Young artists are a great way to take risks at an accessible price point.