Sometimes it takes two to build an art collection.
Akron, Ohio, advertising executive Fred Bidwell and his graphic-designer wife, Laura, are known for their adventurous tastes in contemporary photography. Over the last 15 years they’ve amassed 500 pieces by such photographers as Josh Gosfield, Brian Ulrich and Edward Burtynsky. Now, the Bidwells are teaming up with the Cleveland Museum of Art to renovate a former transformer station in Cleveland in order to house their collection, some of which is promised to the museum. The exhibition space is to open next fall.
This week, the Bidwells spoke about their start as an art-collecting couple. Below, an edited transcript.
Fred: We started collecting the year we got married, 1991. We started small and a little slow, and a lot of the early images were landscapes. Over time our interest broadened to conceptual work and now lots of portraiture. It’s not as if I have one sensibility and Laura has a sharply different one—99% of the time we know what each other will like.
Laura: We’re drawn to images that are a little bit strange but have a real beauty to them. I think we have a David Lynch sensibility.
Fred: In our living room we’ve got a huge photo by Hendrik Kerstens, “Shopping Bag.” It’s an Old Master-style portrait of the photographer’s daughter—except she’s wearing a white plastic grocery bag on her head. It looks like one of those white caps wealthy Dutch women wore during the Renaissance.
Laura: We also recently bought a work by Jill Greenberg, who’s known for her series on crying babies and series of animals like bears and monkeys. Ours is a picture of a lamb—sweet, fuzzy, pink-eared—and his open mouth is covered in what appears to be blood. We talked to Jill and in fact, the lamb had just eaten a jelly doughnut. People come into our house and go, “Oh!”
Fred: We’re also excited about Jordan Tate. He’s doing really smart conceptual works that explore the limits of image-making.
Laura: One of his works shows an iPhone on a pink pillow.
Fred: So it’s a photo of a camera phone whose screen contains even more photos. We usually agree on the artist, but sometimes we have discussions about which particular images we like more. One of our favorites is the Dutch portraitist Hellen van Meene, who’s done a well-respected series of portraits of teenage girls. They’re strange and quirky, and she casts her subjects in interesting ways. So we’ll argue over our selections, and that usually means we have to buy more to make everyone happy.
Laura: We have eight of her girls now, and we’re about to buy more.
Fred: You get a better picture of the photographer’s sensibility if you have multiple examples of their work instead of just one-offs. We’ve bought 30 or 40 images of Todd Hido’s work. He lives in the Bay Area, and he’s known for shooting houses at night in the fog, empty streets taken through a rain-splattered windshield.
Laura: His past always seems to be at his back. You can never go wrong with him. He’s fantastic.