Art Collector Questionnaire Hamptons Edition

20 Years Ago, a George Condo Watercolor Launched Erica Samuels’s Collection—And Her Career

Collector Questionnaire: Erica Samuels
Behind Erica Samuels: George Condo, Gray and Orange Profile, 2013. Opposite wall: Marguerite Humeau, Lilo, the intense desire to bite deeply into the forearm of someone you love, 2021. Back wall: Mark Grotjahn, Untitled (backcountry Capri 54.36), 2021.

CULTURED: What do you think makes the Hamptons art scene distinct?

Erica Samuels: I started going out East in earnest when I was researching Willem de Kooning’s abstract landscapes from 1956 to 1963 for my master’s thesis. De Kooning had moved from New York City to Springs while falling in love with, among other things, the open spaces and the North Atlantic light. I was trying to retrace his steps and find that light. Through that research, I would always see these pictures of artists gathered on the beach. It seemed like such an amazing community, a perfect atmosphere for sublime thinking and artistic exploration.

CULTURED: Where does the story of your personal collection begin?

Samuels: The story really begins in 2002 in Paris. A friend and I went over for the fashion shows—his mom was a very cool woman and couture client. We were students at the time, studying the history of art and connoisseurship, and we were inspired by everything. We went to FIAC together, and in the closet of the Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, I saw an incredible watercolor that just vibrated off the wall. It’s a 1999 watercolor by George Condo. It was like all of modernism had been compressed and spit out onto this piece of paper. I had no business buying that work, but I did. I wasn’t leaving Paris without it. It hangs in my entryway.

Artwork by George Condo, 1999.

CULTURED: How would you describe your approach to advising?

Samuels: I try to be as thoughtful and comprehensive as possible. I try to cover as many time periods as I can. I try to connect the dots in a client’s collection, and make it multi-generational and multidimensional across mediums. Many of my clients buy in depth and can think encyclopedically. I learn from them. It’s really amazing to see a collection born and mature as tastes change, instincts sharpen, and confidence builds.

CULTURED: Can you share one of your proudest acquisition moments for a client?

Samuels: The placement of Walton Ford’s More Than a Mile from 2020. We did the viewing during Covid on the porch outside, all masked up. It now has a prominent place in the living room of a Sagaponack home.

CULTURED: Where do you most enjoy viewing art?

Samuels: I cover a lot of ground, and I think of the venues very democratically, though museums do have a bit more prestige over commercial venues like fairs and galleries. Studio visits are always a good idea—getting to sit with the artist in their place of business, often surrounded by source material, is a privilege and benefit of my job. I joined the board of Art21 this year in part because it creates films that take you right into the source of contemporary artistic creation.

Christian Marclay, Telephones, 1995.

CULTURED: Which work provokes the most conversation from visitors?

Samuels: I have Christian Marclay’s Telephones from 1995 installed in my foyer, and people love to sit and watch it. I have a friend who can literally name all the films in it. The work is a feat of cinematic knowledge and editing genius.

CULTURED: How do you discover new artists?

Samuels: I try to go to as many fairs and see as many shows as I possibly can. I look to museums and curators for inspiration as well. The Venice Biennale is always an incredible source of inspiration. It’s one of the places where I can go and not have to ask how much something is, even though things might be for sale.

CULTURED: Which artist are you currently most excited about?

Samuels: That seems like advice I should reserve for my clients. But if I must, I am absolutely smitten with the instinctive painterly work of Adrianne Rubenstein.

Artwork by Andy Warhol.

CULTURED: What was the most challenging piece to acquire for your personal collection?

Samuels: A lot of my collecting has come fairly easy to me. However, I did hunt down an [Andy] Warhol Hamburger painting many years ago. I am very glad to own this work, and I love living with it.

There is a Thomas Houseago that, while it wasn’t so difficult to acquire, was very difficult to install. It didn’t fit in the elevator and was way too heavy to bring up the stairs, so we arranged for a crane and brought it through the window. It’s never, ever leaving my apartment.

CULTURED: Is there one piece that got away or that you still think about?

Samuels: A Richard Prince Trix photo. It’s also the cover of his "Spiritual America" catalog. I didn’t have the money to buy it from Per Skarstedt then and probably wouldn’t now, if it became available. It’s such an iconic photo. But like I tell my clients, “There is always more art.”

CULTURED: Who or what was your biggest influence in fostering your passion for art?

Samuels: Definitely my mom. She had me collecting vintage Whiting & Davis bags and teapots when I was younger. She even indulged my collection of inflatables—my early entrée into kitsch! She dragged me to museums and would rip out magazine articles and leave them for me to read.