My mother often said the greatest compliment and gift is an invitation into someone’s home. One of my favorite things to do in Charleston is to ride my bike (barefoot) down King then South of Broad to Kristin and Stan Stevens' residence for a bourbon (neat) as the sun sets over the Battery. In their 18th-century historic home, the only near-match for their warmth and friendship is the impact of their A-plus modern art. So I asked the Chicago/Charleston-based Stevens 10 questions about collecting and living with modern art (and how that works in an historic backdrop).
But first, a little bit about them: Both retired attorneys, Stan and Kristin purchased a second home in Charleston and embraced the visual arts. In both the Holy City and Chicago, they are involved with several charitable organizations as well as art museums—including the Gibbes and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Avid travelers, the Stevens have purchased some of their favorite art works in cities like Berlin and Hong Kong.
WHAT DO YOU COLLECT?
We collect contemporary art: primarily photography and paintings. Most of what we collect in Charleston is photography with an emphasis on local/regional work. Our home in Chicago is more of a mix, but still dominated by photography. We also collect Asian artifacts.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST PIECE OF ART YOU PURCHASED?
The first serious piece we ever bought was a photograph by Jeffrey Becom in 1984 from a gallery in Carmel, California. It was for Kristin’s office. We had just seen an exhibit of Michael Kenna’s work which we could not afford, so you might say we bought it on the rebound.
HAVE YOUR TASTES CHANGED?
Yes. Our vision has broadened and we are more adventuresome.
DO YOU BUY ART WHEN YOU TRAVEL? IF SO, WHAT?
Yes. Last year we bought a piece by Walton Ford in Copenhagen. This April we bought a photograph by Vik Muniz in New York.
WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO CHARLESTON?
We stopped in Charleston en route to Naples, Florida, and just fell in love with the beauty and energy of the city. (Charlestonians should be grateful for their pit-stop as the Stevens are committed patrons to the visual arts: the Halsey Institute, the Gibbes Museum, and local galleries.)
HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED WITH THE GIBBES?
Our friend, Laura Gates, introduced us to the Gibbes. Kristin is now on the museum's board.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE FOR THE FUTURE OF THE CHARLESTON ART SCENE?
We would like to see it embrace more of the wonderful contemporary artists who are working in the South and elsewhere.
WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE CHARLESTON ARTISTS?
We are huge fans of Kevin Taylor. While we are not sure you can categorize Jack Spencer and Richard Sexton as local—maybe regional—we like their work tremendously. We also like Kirsten Moran.
WHAT ARE THE TRICKS OF SELECTING AND HANGING MODERN ART IN AN HISTORIC HOME?
We're not sure if there are any tricks for selecting modern work for an historic home, but for hanging modern work (or any work for that matter) you need to have a really good installer. As for selecting work for our historic home, we both have to really like the work and believe it somehow speaks to life in Charleston. Contemporary art breathes life into a historic home; it keeps things unpredictable and interesting.