When Lenore was on a quest for some unique decorating pieces for her house in Connecticut, she stumbled across a painting: an elegant woman looking right at her. Somehow, she looked familiar. Was it Jackie Kennedy? For USD $30, Lenore bought the painting and immediately afterwards started to do some research online. She was right, the painting was a portrait of Jackie Kennedy; most probably attributed to American artist Gino Hollander, who made it during Jackie’s stay in Spain after JFK had been assassinated. Gino literally saved Jackie from the paparazzi on the back of a horse. It is well documented that Jackie became a collector of his works but the portrait, showing her partially nude tugs at your curiosity making you wonder if perhaps there was something more. Fact is, the painting is now part of Lenore’s beautiful art collection.
Fast forward a couple of years, I met Lenore at her apartment in Singapore. As soon as I entered the place, I knew that this was the home of someone who not only had great taste but also loved art and wanted to surround herself with it on a daily basis. Dressed in simple navy-blue pants, a white blouse and a long gold necklace paired with oversized sunglasses, Lenore did have a Jackie-esque aura around her. But what is more fascinating is her passion about art and the joy she has while captivating her visitors.
During our house tour, Lenore showed me her discoveries from treasure hunts in Singapore and Indonesia. The Jackie Kennedy painting is back in the United States. However, the artworks of South-East Asian artists are no less beautiful and intriguing. A beautiful water colour painting of colonial shop houses in Singapore with stitched contours. Another painting by Indonesian artist Sahrizal Zain Koto that made me feel sitting on the inside of a house in the tropics looking outside the window into the pouring rain. When Lenore showed me the works, her eyes lit up when describing every one of them, she walked through her daily museum with a big smile and it was just infectious.
Since she found the Gino painting, Lenore has been bitten by the art bug. She is not a formally trained art historian – she previously worked for Yahoo – but this does not limit her knowledge about art and her passion. On the contrary, coming from the “outside world” makes her relatable and it might be the secret ingredient why you might turn into an art lover after one visit at Lenore’s.
“A painting has to touch me, it has to cause something and stir up my emotions. Only then will I buy it.”
I ask her if she buys with an investment mindset. “Maybe to some extent, but when selecting art I equate it a lot to falling in love. It is a gut feeling, instinctual, you are not really sure what it is but the one thing you do know is, you cannot live without it.”
Lenore’s hunt covers flea markets, which, according to her, are very different in the US than in Asia, eBay (yes, I was surprised too, I knew about vintage clothing but not about art being sold on ebay) or even her daughters’ school – one artist is a teacher. “I am constantly looking for art. You have to do your research, then you can find good pieces anywhere.”
As if building up an art collection is not enough, Lenore does not stop at purchasing art and exhibiting it in her beautiful apartment (the attention to detail is marvelous by the way, in the bedroom, the fan and the painting above the bed form a beautiful symbiosis). Lenore recently started to take some friends to Indonesia, on a “get-your-hands-dirty-art-trip”, as she calls it.
According to Lenore, people who are not part of the “inner circles” of the art world are sometimes intimated by galleries. Can I just walk in? What if they expect me to buy something? During their most recent trip, the ladies visited the houses of resident Indonesian artists with whom Lenore had built up long-lasting relationships. Among them Dedy Sufriadi, Nasirun and Andi Hartana.
The group got to know the artists, how they live, the work processes and could even go into some attics to choose from paintings stored there.
It was an amazing but also very emotional experience. As we walked through one artists home specifically it was so beautiful, his work awe inspiring and his life mission so humbling some of the women were so moved they began to weep.
During the art tour through her apartment, Lenore showed me one of her newest acquisitions: a painting by one of the hosts, Indonesian artist Dedy Sufriadi. The very same artist is currently being exhibited at Redsea Gallery in Singapore. After my visit at Lenore’s, I headed over to the gallery to see the works. I could not believe that the artist behind the colourful graffiti-like works was the person Lenore described to me – a completely relaxed, funny guy living in a small oasis in Indonesia. And I realized that Lenore had a point – sometimes, we feel a bit lost in galleries, especially if we are art newbies. Lenore’s travel stories about her trips to Indonesia definitely made his art much more relatable than just the info texts provided at the galleries.
Will she organize more trips in the future? “I definitely plan to take my friends to Indonesia again. And maybe other people would be interested too. One of my favorite parts of the trip was seeing my friends also become so inspired by the experience and watching something ignite inside them. It is fun to be able to pursue your passion but I am finding it is even more fun to be able to share it with others.”
“My mission is to connect people and art and to show them that art is for everyone not just a select few. We just need to forget about preconceived notions about art – which education we need, what we need to know about art, even a certain budget – finding art is much more of an instinctual experience than I think people realize. When it’s the piece for you. You’ll know. Just like falling in love.”
Photos courtesy of Lenore Morrow Mallett (unless stated otherwise) | Illustration (c) The Pink Loobkook