The writer, editor and philanthropist Allison Berg may be best known in the art world as a producer of the documentary The Art of Making It, but she is also an indefatigable collector who chronicles her art adventures on Instagram (@collectista). And, since joining the board of trustees at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2017, she and her husband Larry Berg have been instrumental in the museum’s acquisition of works by Julie Mehretu, the textile artist Diedrick Brackens, the South African ceramicist Zizipho Poswa, the photographer Janna Ireland and more.
The Art Newspaper: What was the first work you bought?
Allison Berg: An early 1970s Yayoi Kusama work on paper. It kills me now how trite this reads, but it was at a time when if you didn’t have a pre-2000 Kusama, you shouldn’t bother having a Kusama. I was fascinated by the artist’s life and fraught history. The gallerist Marc Selwyn’s brilliant eye was my intro into the magical intimacy of works on paper.
What was your most recent purchase?
A Magdalena Suarez Frimkess Minnie Mouse ceramic sculpture from Kaufmann Repetto’s Frieze Los Angeles presentation. I strive to separate the artist from the artwork but am usually unsuccessful. Magdalena is a badass, 94-year-old Venezuelan American woman, based in Los Angeles, who seems to be working through childhood trauma via a soul-stirring amalgamation of pop-culture cartoon characters and Aztec iconography, among other worldly influences. I love when a small object can be so disproportionately powerful.
If your house was on fire, which work would you save?
Tough question. My real-life children have accused me of speaking about artworks like they are living, breathing family members. I would have to say The Eternal Thread Is You, a deeply personal Louise Bourgeois sculpture. Louise is, by far, my favourite non-living visual artist. That said, this response also lets me off the hook with my favourite living artist friends; I’m thinking perhaps they could closely replicate anything that got destroyed in the fire? I will continue ruminating on this one for years to come. Thank you for that.
If money were no object, what would be your dream purchase?
The entire Martin Puryear show that is currently at Matthew Marks’s Los Angeles location. It is truly sublime. Puryear’s sculpture has always intrigued me—he mixes abstract with figurative to share crucial historic, psychological and cultural narratives without being overtly didactic—and he still makes these monumentally sized works with his own hands at 81! Admittedly, Puryear really grabbed my heart when he was honoured with the Getty Medal. He has transformed art history, inspires humanity and does it all with great humility.
Which work do you regret not buying when you had the chance?
A fabulous Martin Puryear sculpture when it was offered to me over a decade ago. Timing is everything.
What is the most surprising place you have displayed a work?
We have a Kaari Upson Pepsi sculpture tucked underneath our family staircase. My husband thought it was bizarro placement, but it was very intentional as the work is strong enough that it doesn’t have to scream “Hey, look at me!” The materiality and story speak for themselves—with the assistance of great lighting. (We all need a little bit of that.) Anyone who is at all visually oriented connects with the piece and takes pause as they pass through that hall.
Which work would I save? Tough question. My real-life children have accused me of speaking about artworks like they are living, breathing family members
Which artists, dead or alive, would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Oh, no! This one is like an Oscar-speech moment. I am slightly panicked that I will omit someone important to me during this frenetic fair week. OK… My dream artist dinner party would unite a group of artists whose practices are imbued with deep, personal investigations of identity, cultural histories and the body. The first, in what would have to be a series of many, might include: Louise Bourgeois, Huma Bhaba, Julie Mehretu, Bob Gober, Nairy Baghramian, Theaster Gates, Lauren Halsey, Andrea Bowers, Diedrick Brackens, Mark Bradford, Kenturah Davis, Todd Gray, Alex Anderson, Simone Leigh, Gala Porras-Kim, Analia Saban and Lorna Simpson.
What’s the best collecting advice you’ve been given?
Look with your eyes, not your ears.
Have you bought an NFT?
Yes, I have acquired a couple of NFTs: Lil’ Heroes and a Nina Chanel Abney. This question is sort of like asking “Have you bought any acrylic paintings?” NFTs are merely a new medium. I cannot wrap my head around them as an asset class or entire business model. That feels kind of inauthentic and, in some cases, dangerous to me.