Although his primary home is in Connecticut, Jeff Lawson, the founder of the Untitled Art fair, is something of an honorary Miamian. Since launching the fair in 2012, he has helped make it one of the must-attend satellite events of Miami Art Week, with ambitious galleries putting forward thoughtfully curated stands focused on emerging artists. In recent years, the fair has honed its identity with increasingly prominent curatorial projects, ambitious programming and a bevy of prizes. Plus, its location directly on the beach cannot be beat. (In 2017, Lawson launched a second edition of the fair in San Francisco.)
Lawson’s own tastes, and those of his wife—the jewellery designer Michael Miller—toggle between the conceptual and the tactile, with a healthy dose of photography to boot. Their holdings include works by the photographer Justine Kurland, the photo and collage artist Sheree Hovsepian, the painters Austin Lee and Wanda Koop, and the conceptual art legend Robert Gober. Before the chaos of Miami Art Week hit, Lawson shared some of his experiences as a collector.
The Art Newspaper: What was the first work you ever bought?
Jeff Lawson: The first work I ever bought was Justine Kurland’s Making Happy (1998). I could not afford to buy it but really had to have it. That was the beginning of the end for me. It was my realisation that I needed to have art in my life. It also put collecting in perspective for me. It’s wanting to own something that you love or is important to you. It’s an idea I keep in mind for Untitled Art.
What was the most recent work you bought?
A José Lerma from his new series. I first saw this work in Chicago and instantly knew I needed to get a painting from it.
It’s wild that it takes so long to put a fair together—and then it gets torn down. It’s a strange thing
How quickly do you decide to buy a work of art?
I’m very impulsive. I see something, and I need to have it. There is not a lot of thought that goes into it. My wife, Michael, is much more deliberate. She is a jeweller and sees and functions as an artist; she focuses much more on process. Together, we discuss the work a lot and are thoughtful as we consider it. We tend to mostly agree on which work to buy. With that said, she probably has a better eye and there are a couple instances I wish I’d listened to her more.
What do you regret not buying when you had the chance?
There are countless works that I regret not buying. Honestly, I don’t see myself as a collector at the level of, “Oh, that one got away.” I’m still finding my way, so the whole thing is a process.
What is the most unusual place you’ve installed a piece in your home?
I wouldn’t say there is anything unusual, but I do have a print by Toiletpaper magazine (Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari) titled shit hanging over a toilet in a bathroom.
If you could have any work from any museum in the world, what would it be?
Bruce Nauman’s Carousel (1988).
What are you looking out for at Untitled Art this year?
There are so many great artists and galleries participating. I’m especially looking forward to seeing Emma Talbot, who is showing with Victoria Miro Projects, after seeing her work in Venice last year. Also, Shona McAndrew with Chart.
What is your least favourite thing about art fairs?
That it takes an entire year to produce a fair and then it’s over. Every year, there is a sense of loss after the fair ends. Everybody I work with puts so much into the event. It’s wild that it takes so long to put it together, build it and produce it—and then it gets torn down. It’s a strange thing.
What tip would you give to someone visiting Miami for the first time?
Pace yourself. There is so much to see and take in.
Where do you like to eat and drink in Miami?
I really like Smith & Wollensky. It is such a great location, right on the Government Cut. You can sit there and watch the ships coming into and leaving port. I love it. I also like Byblos, Mandolin and Michael’s Genuine. The bar in the old Raleigh was a great place to get a late-night drink, but it’s long gone.