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Eileen S. Kaminsky and Virginia Martinsen in Virginia's studio at Mana Contemporary, October 2011. Photos by Tema Stauffer.

Eileen S. Kaminsky recently had a chance to drop by the Mana Contemporary studio of friend and artist Virginia Martinsen to discuss some of her inspirations and future projects for the Eileen S. Kaminsky Family Foundation.

Virginia Martinsen:  Eileen, thank you for coming by!  I moved into my studio here at Mana at about the same time you opened your foundation here.  What is it like to have your foundation in the same building as artist’s studios?  Have you experienced an exchange of ideas?

Eileen Kaminsky: Virginia, yes we did move into Mana at about the same time.  The move has been a wonderful experience and a collector’s dream-come-true.   Ask a collector to do a studio visit and see their eyes light up. Mana Contemporary is Mecca to me. I am on a continual high getting to be at Mecca.   I can do studio visits to my heart’s content.  I love to peek into the artists’ studios, smell the paint and see what they are working on, what inspires them to create.  The atmosphere at the art center is full of inspiration.  Artists inspire other artists; the space propels an exchange of ideas. My favorite pastime is to talk to an artist whose work I am not yet familiar with.  How, what, when, where are only a few of the questions that are on my mind.  I like to ask about influences and what inspired their visual vocabulary.  I get to see the pallet an artist uses first hand and get to ask why that color?  I certainly learn something new every time.  I am never disappointed with a studio visit.

VM:  You just opened the second exhibition at your new foundation space with a survey of photorealistic works from the Louis K. and Susan P. Meisel collection.  What drew you to their collection?

EK: Our new exhibition is an astounding collection of photorealism, a must see!  Exhibiting the Meisel collection was an easy choice for me as there are parallels between their collection and the artwork I personally love and collect.  Louis is an interesting man to talk to -  it’s been a joy listing to him talk about the work he and Susan have collected over the years.  Through the Meisels, I was introduced to Anthony Brunelli, a contemporary photorealist painter in the exhibition.  Tony told me he is working on a large painting that will take him a year to complete.  I can’t wait to see the resulting work.  I am excited to say that Tony has agreed to speak about his work at our center in the near future.

VM: As a collector who travels around the world visiting different exhibitions, art fairs and museums, why did you decide to showcase the collections of other collectors at the ESKFF?

EK: For more years then I care to say, many of my favorite art works were stored in crates in dark rooms.  They were too big or too many to display in my home.  I tried salon-style, which allows you to put everything you can fit on a wall.  Believe me, I tried to hang everything.  I even hung paintings on the ceiling like they do in Europe, but I quickly ran out of space.  Collectors have works piled on the floor, stacked against the walls, underneath and on top of the beds.  You trip on them until you finally resort to storage.  You ship your paintings to lie in wait until they are called upon or otherwise forgotten.  I started to think of all the works owned by other collectors.  I thought about how artists toil away only to see their works shipped off to storage.   I want the world and me to be able to see those works -  to bring beautiful art out of the dark rooms.

Eileen S. Kaminsky and Virginia Martinsen discuss work-in-progress.

VM: Eileen, you have such a diverse collection, with works by artists with such seemingly disparate artistic practices, ranging from established artists such as Carroll Dunham and Sigalit Landau to emerging artists such as Will Kurtz and myself.  What attracts you to a work of art?

EK: Anyone can make a nice picture.  So many artists are technically proficient.  As a collector, I need to see something in the work that is different, special – something less obvious.  For instance, consider the work of  Los Angeles-based artist, Allison Schulnik.  She painted a lovely, very large bowl of fruit, but when you look closer, it is the face of a disturbing clown.  I want a work to transport me.  With such simple materials as newspaper and tape, Will Kurtz creates sculptures so life-like, you have to see them to believe it.  I recently acquired Bob, Mom, and Dog, and it reminds me so much of my in-laws. I can hear Jeanette, with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, yelling at Bill to turn off the TV and walk the dog.  I adore works that inspire me.  I don’t want art that will disappear into the woodwork, or that I will grow tired of.  I like work that I can revisit and see something else to consider.  Every time I look at one of German artist Stefanie Gutheil’s colorful, cataclysmic panoramas, I find something new to revel in, laugh at or be frightened by.

VM:  You collect a large number of works from Yigal Ozeri, whom you are close personal friends with and often accompany to his exhibitions in various parts of the world.  How has such a close relationship with an artist affected your views of art and life?

EK: Yigal is a special person, and you are correct, we are very close.  I have become one of the family, sharing life experiences with all its joys and losses with him.  His wonderful wife, Hanni, and amazing daughter and talented soccer-playing son are dear friends.  Yigal has changed my life.  He has introduced me to so many people, places and experiences.  He has opened my mind and my heart to the world of art; he is such a giving man.  You have to understand that a studio visit with Yigal is something special, a true performance as he unveils the works one-by-astounding-one.  He always surprises me.  I think, no, he cannot surpass this painting, it is the ultimate, and then he does.  Yigal is as fascinating as his work.  I will tell you a secret.  Yigal was the inspiration for the ESKFF.  I want the world to see his work and the works of all the artists he has inspired me to collect.  It would not exist without our friendship.

VM: I always find it such a treat to visit the homes of people who collect art and see which pieces they decide to purchase and how they integrate their collections into their daily lives.  In fact, I have had the privilege of visiting several collectors homes with you.  Can you tell me about your new project My Home is Your Home?

EK: Yes, you are so right!  I love to visit other collector’s homes.  It is such a privilege to see what people choose to own and what they select to display in their homes.  I am always astounded by the art that is in private homes for just a few to see.  I have seen such incredible works hiding away in my friends’ bathrooms.  That is what inspired me to ask collectors if they would share their views and the art they own with the rest of the world. I remember the first time visiting the home of Peter Frey and Carry Shapiro, who will be the first collectors I interview in this online series.  I loved the way they installed their sculptures of Sofi Zezmer, a German artist whom I also now currently collect.  At the time, I was afraid to own anything out of a frame but they inspired me to own sculpture.   With My Home is your Home, I thought maybe some of my friends and acquaintances would allow us to enter their homes and share their surprises with others.

VM: Are there any collectors that have been a particular inspiration to you and the way you collect art?

EK: There are many people whom I have found inspirational.  Peter and Carrie inspired me to integrate sculptural works into both my collection and home.  I am always inspired by Richard Massey’s passion and the support he gives to artists, galleries and institutions.  Through my involvement on the boards of the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art and EXIT Art, I have become close friends with Marc and Livia Straus.  The Straus’ have quite an extensive collection and have been a particular inspiration.  I always enjoy hearing about their travel experiences, meetings with artists and their recent acquisitions.  They travel all over the world to find new and interesting art to bring home.  They have influenced me to look outside the United States – recently in Eastern Europe – and introduced me to young artists whose practices have evolved after the fall of the Iron Curtain.  Marc and Livia have such incredible installations of work in their home.  I hope they will allow us to film them for My Home is Your Home.

VM: Your foundation brings an artistic cultural platform to an area in New Jersey that is perhaps not so well know for its art scene.  What are some of your long-term goals for the Eileen S. Kaminsky Family Foundation?

EK: As a member of the Mana Contemporary’s community, I would like to help in their goal of housing a multi-dimensional facility for visual art, music, theater and dance.  I want to help artists to have a place to meet, learn, exchange ideas, create and grow.  I have many ideas including hosting resident artists from other parts of the world, and exhibiting juried shows.  Additionally, I would like to collaborate with schools and introduce local children to the arts community in Jersey City.  It is a very exciting time for us.

Virginia Martinsen's studio.