Ahead of the opening of the new Orange County Art Museum, director Heidi Zuckerman shows off in a cultured way what she collects at home

Sarah Harrelson: When did you first become interested in art?

Heidi Zuckermann: I grew up around art and honestly, I can’t remember a time in my life before I was at least art-curious. My grandmother was a collector of fine and decorative arts – Hudson River School painting, 17th century Dutch painting, early American painting, French and English furniture, silverware, ceramics, carpets – and when she was running out of space, she was sending things to our house. My parents were never particularly interested in art or design, so I grew up making up my own stories about the things we lived with.

SH: How did you start building your own collection?

Hz: After graduating from college, I spent a year in London studying at Christie’s auction house, then moved to New York. I worked in a gallery in SoHo and all my friends were artists and in the art world. That said, I really had no idea how to buy art and I remember a friend of mine who worked in a gallery gave me the language I needed to ask another long time friend, gallery owner Nicolai Wallner, a discount to buy a David. Shrigley drawing. This was the second piece of art I bought. Once I realized I could live with things I loved – not just loved, but really loved – I was hooked!

Works by Simryn Gill, Huma Bhabha, Yehudit Sasportas, Jim Hodges and an ashtray by Yoshitomo Nara in Laguna Beach, California, home of Heidi Zuckerman. All photographs courtesy of Heidi Zuckerman and Brende Marshall.

SH: What was the first piece you bought?

Hz: A drawing by Karen Kilimnik Jane from the Stuttering exhibition curated by Vik Muniz at the Stux Gallery in 1990. I was basically a kid and paid $50 a month for five months to buy it. I was incredibly lucky to get it and it remains one of my favorite works that I own!

SH: Do you have a defining theme for your collection?

Hz: I love humor and the people and art that has it. I’m also obsessed with intention. I also appreciate beauty very much. These are of course all abstract concepts and at least one, if not all, are present in everything I collect.

SH: Which designers/artists inspire you at the moment?

Hz: I’m a super ritualistic person, and I’m drawn to and inspired by designers and artists who express or share their rituals and practices. I currently enjoy watching Daniel Arsham raking his Japanese rock garden and Jen Guidi painting on hip-hop.

SH: What surprised you the most about all of your artist interviews on your podcast? What was most revealing?

Hz: I love artists and am incredibly grateful to have spent a lifetime chatting with artists and talking about art. Perhaps the most telling thing is when people answer my question about the importance of art. I guess I’m always surprised by how I feel inside when I hear these answers because they’re so authentic and so individual and so serious and yet simultaneously they connect with a universal truth.

The lobby features works by Anne Collier, Karen Kilimnik, Julie Mehretu, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres.

SH: How has the history of LA Art influenced your decisions or installations at OCMA?

Hz: We explore the history of the institution, the curators and directors who have worked here, our collection and the history of our exhibition. OCMA has always been a place that celebrates boldness and innovation, and it’s also something that defines California and the people who choose to live and create here!

SH: What was the best thing about working with Thom Mayne on the new building?

Hz: I met Thom when we were looking for an architect for the Aspen Art Museum in 2008 and have long admired his practice. He lived and worked in Southern California and in many ways defined how we understand architecture here. Bringing his genius to an art museum, his first, is extraordinary!

SH: What are you most excited about opening night?

Hz: It’s incredibly fun, rewarding and gratifying to build a new museum and the best part is inviting people to look at the art together and share an experience around something that matters so much.

SH: Tell us how you chose the artists for your next show “13 Women”?

Hz: In one of my interviews for the CEO and Director of Labor at the Orange County Museum of Art, I was asked what exhibition I would curate from the collection. On my first day at the museum, I asked for a list of all the women in the collection and zeroed in on a sculpture by Alice Aycock that the museum had acquired over 40 years ago but had never assembled or shown. I wanted to show new things and artists and works super identified with our institution like Catherine Opie and Vija Celmins, as well as keep room for recent acquisitions made as part of our 60 for 60 initiative like Hilary Pecis and Lucy Bull.

SH: In terms of discovering new artists/designers, what are your trusted methods?

Hz: I constantly watch as I move through the world, my main way of being is to actively watch. I also spend a lot of time in conversation, with artists and others, and I listen to things that surprise and repeat.

SH: Does the market help you discover?

Hz: I’m super interested in popular culture and identifying trends.

SH: What are the current collecting trends on your radar, if any?

Hz: I’ve been collecting since I was a kid. It was my grandmother’s idea, and she launched my first collection, the paperweights. My taste has always been to mix the classic and the contemporary.

Heidi Zuckeman's house.  Photograph courtesy of Heidi Zuckerman.
Drawing by Karen Kilimnik.

SH: What’s the next piece on your radar?

Hz: There’s a Lily Stockman painting in my “13 Women” show that I covet!

SH: What’s the last piece you bought?

Hz: A Sarah Cain talisman for my boyfriend on his birthday. It hangs on his side of our bed.

SH: What is the part that escaped?

Hz: A painting by Peter Doig that was in the show I did with him at the Berkeley Art Museum in 2000, his first solo show in a museum in America. It was a nice big green painting of a basketball court in San Juan. A few years ago I walked into the house of someone I won’t name and saw it hanging in the living room and I literally felt like I had been stabbed in the heart!

SH: What’s better to live in CA than in CO?

Hz: Being able to walk on the beach every day!

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