An Art-Filled Home for the Holidays: Notes on Collecting, Giving, and Cherishing Art with Pat Bell

Above: installation view, portion of Pat Bell’s art collection festive for the holiday season

Collectors play a critical role in the art world, not only as tastemakers and figures who help shape the global art market, but also as supporters of artists’ careers, donors to institutions and nonprofits that allow art to become more accessible to the public, and more. Some private art collections can be visited like museums.

Prominent art collector Pat Bell exemplifies an individual whose passion for art gives back to the arts community. Her New York Times-worthy collection is located in her whimsical Victorian South Orange, New Jersey home. Pat graciously welcomed me to take a tour of her collection and speak with her about how it is curated.

In this Artifactoid interview, Pat discusses her beginnings as an art collector, institutional giving, and what she loves most about living alongside art.

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Artwork detail from the collection of Pat Bell

Artifactoid: When did you begin collecting art?

Pat Bell: I am going to tell you the story of my art collecting. My sister Pamela Bell was working for John Lee of now BravinLee Programs as an intern in the city. John asked me what I was doing with my extra money that I was making as a Financial Advisor at Merrill Lynch. I said buying stocks and bonds, he suggested looking at art. I said I knew nothing about it but I was willing to learn. He asked if I wanted to buy art I knew or art that was new, I said again that I knew nothing about art at all but new art of the day sounded more interesting to me. This was 1989.

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Artwork detail from the collection of Pat Bell

Artifactoid: How did your collection start out? What inspired you to start collecting? Was there a defining moment?

PB: John took me around to art galleries in Soho at the time that is where the art scene was. The first day out I bought a piece by Dotty Attie, and the “Sex Series”  by David Wojnarowicz. Both works spoke to me, and I realized that the thought of living with the artists’ work excited me. John took me around a number of other times, and then I became comfortable to go on my own.

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Artwork detail from the collection of Pat Bell

Artifactoid: Who is your favorite artist?

PB: I have so many favorite artists. Modigliani, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Lisa Yuskavage, Egon Schiele, there are so many more. I always thought that art works were just borrowed so that I do not have just one work that I just must have. It is easy for me to give them away. I do not become attached to them. I think I am a little different than many collectors in that respect.

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Installation view, portion of Pat Bell’s art collection and home décor

Artifactoid: Do you have a “dream” piece to own? What would it be?

PB: I do not really have just one dream piece. I see new photography and I love it and then I see another one and I love it too. It is easy for me to fall in love; I just fall in love with the works all of the time.

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Artwork detail from the collection of Pat Bell

Artifactoid: What are some of your favorite pieces that you own?

PB: Some of my most long lasting artists that are represented in my collection are Thomas Broadbent a wonderful water colorist, Willie Cole who speaks for himself, Alexis Rockman. Helen Van Meene a wonderful photographer who take photographs of girls who are coming of age. Jen Davis. Alec Soth. Bo Risden. Rachel Perry-Wealty. I could go on.

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Artwork detail from the collection of Pat Bell

Artifactoid: You have donated a lot to institutions. Where are some places people can go and see pieces from your collection?

PB: I have given works to the Montclair Art Museum, about 65 works. They actually did a show of all the works that I gave back in 2013 it was wonderful. Usually anytime you visit the museum, there are works up that I have gifted. I also have given works to the Newark Museum, some really special pieces. There is usually something on view there as well. I recently have a work to the State Museum in Trenton by David Ambrose; he is a wonderful artist. I have also giving Aljira works for their auction over the last ten years. Really great works that always draw attention to the event. Hank Willis Thomas, Willie Cole and so many more.

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Installation view, portion of Pat Bell’s art collection and home décor

Artifactoid: What would be your most important piece of advice for someone seriously thinking about beginning an art collection?

PB: I buy what I like not what I am told I should like. One thing that I have noticed in the art world as of late is that people buy names not works. I wonder if they end up with a collection that is full of spirit and inspiration then. I have always trusted my instincts and they have held me in good stead.

Artifactoid: How does collecting art enrich your life?

PB: I love art, it is like living with the souls of the artists; what a great gift.

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Artwork detail from the collection of Pat Bell

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