“He and his wife have excavated a huge subterranean vault beneath their house outside Washington – a white space 5m square and 4m high in which it will be possible to show “very complicated video pieces” on all four walls.”
by John Hooper, The Guardian:
We’ve all heard about artists who suffer for their work. Tony Podesta and his wife, Heather Miller, suffer for other people’s. When they bought a 2,000lb Louise Bourgeois sculpture for their home in Washington, for instance, it required substantial renovations to the building. “We had to get a structural engineer in to sort out what sort of support it needed,” says Podesta. “And we not only had to build support underneath where it was going but temporary support from the point at which it entered the house to the point at which it was placed. I don’t think it’ll ever leave.”
Then there is the travel involved. The couple have unusually demanding jobs. He is one of Washington’s top lobbyists, renowned as the man who first built bridges between Silicon Valley and Capitol Hill. She has joined the lobbying business after a career as a top-flight lawyer in Congress and the Senate. Most people in their positions would spend their leisure time unwinding. Instead, they make what Miller calls “Herculean” trips to Europe and further afield to buy art. It is perfectly normal for them to leave Washington on Friday evening and return the following Monday morning, having visited more than one European capital in the meantime.
Their travelling, and the knowledge of the global art scene they have acquired, has turned them into two of America’s best-known collectors. They were meant to be in Rome on vacation when I caught up with them. But the day before they had been out ferreting in Trastevere, where they found a couple of Wolfgang Tillmans photographs, which they unwrapped with engaging enthusiasm.
They are known for purchasing “awkward” works, such as video installations, that many other private collectors will not consider. “It’s easy to store them, but difficult to display them,” says Podesta. To get round the problem, he and his wife have excavated a huge subterranean vault beneath their house outside Washington – a white space 5m square and 4m high in which it will be possible to show “very complicated video pieces” on all four walls.
Miller, the daughter of academics, still marvels at her involvement in a world and way of life she got to know only after meeting her husband. She recalls one of their first visits to a gallery and how the owner told Podesta he had a work by a particular photographer “going cheap”. It turned out he wanted $40,000. “So I’m standing there in front of this photograph and I’m thinking to myself, like, ‘This is cheap?’ ”
Her husband, who looks less like an aesthete than a character from the Sopranos, became involved with collecting no less accidentally. He was helping Ted Kennedy in his failed bid to challenge Jimmy Carter for the 1980 Democratic nomination. When he ran short of cash, Kennedy laid off three-quarters of his staff.
“Those of us who remained were paid in donated art. Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein were all supporters,” he recalls. “I ended up leaving the campaign with a treasure trove.” Collecting became a “form of addiction”.
Today, he reckons, he and his wife have the world’s biggest collection of Anna Gaskell (“maybe second to Anna Gaskell”). Other contemporary favourites include Gillian Wearing, Marina Abramovic, Sam Taylor-Wood and Olafur Eliasson, whose work Podesta discovered 10 years ago, when the artist was still at the Royal Academy of Arts in Copenhagen.
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