Art Market

The Artsy Collector Spotlight: David Montalba

Artsy Editorial
Aug 29, 2022 4:15PM

Portrait of David Montalba. Courtesy of David Montalba and Montalba Architects.

David Montalba, the leader of the Lausanne- and Los Angeles–based Montalba Architects, is known for designing residential and hospitality spaces that harmoniously intertwine the clean precision of Swiss design with the airy lightness of California modernism. The firm, whose work and design philosophy is the subject of a new book, Place and Space, is often cited for realizing the beloved Nobu Ryokan in Malibu and The Row’s West Hollywood shop. A close third is Montalba’s own home.

The Santa Monica residence, with its exceptional three-story “courtyard/atrium,” is typical of the Swiss American architect’s flair for integrating indoor and outdoor spaces. And notably, the home is ever so carefully dotted with works from the impressive art collection Montalba and his wife, Amy, share. There’s no denying that the architect’s practiced eye extends to art collecting.

The Montalbas’ collection ranges from lithographs by modern and contemporary legends like Keith Haring, James Turrell, Ed Clark, and Anish Kapoor to original canvases, drawings, and textile works by sought-after living artists such as Tara Donovan, Sarah Crowner, Brent Wadden, and Hugh Scott-Douglas. We recently caught up with David Montalba to learn about the artists he admires, his approach to buying art, and how being an architect influences his collecting.

Exterior view of David Montalba’s Santa Monica residence. Photo by Kevin Scott. Courtesy of David Montalba.


Can you describe your collection in a sentence or less?

What truly inspires my wife and I—our unique lens on the world.

When and why did you start collecting art?

Collecting was never really a conscious act, it just felt natural. I had a desire to catalog, track, and curate creative works, even in university. So when it came to building a collection, it happened organically and slowly in my late twenties, and has built up speed for my wife and I every couple of years.

We have been intentional about trying to keep some balance to our collection and not just collecting acrylic on canvas, but mixed media, sculpture, photography, loom works, and other types of work that speak to us.

Brent Wadden, installation view of Untitled, 2018. Photo by Kevin Scott. Courtesy of David Montalba.

What is a piece you own that people are often drawn to or ask you about frequently?

We have a large piece by Brent Wadden that anchors our living room. Its scale, incessant geometry, and sense of texture often make it one of the first works people gravitate towards.

Can you tell us about an artist you’ve discovered through Artsy?

The Belgian artist Pieter Vermeersch is someone I initially found through Artsy and later started collecting his works. We now have two of his paintings, which are minimal and reflective, yet show an awareness and appreciation of color and light that is very subtle, intentional, and calculated.

Can you tell us about a piece you recently bought on Artsy?

We recently purchased a work by Sarah Crowner via an Artsy auction that we love. We also purchased a piece by Tara Donovan that I had been considering buying from a gallery a year prior, but noticed it on Artsy in the 2021 “USA for UNHCR: Art and Resilience Benefit Auction” to help Syrian refugees, so we purchased through [Artsy] instead.

What is your collecting process like?

We try to stick to works that trigger an emotional response, and pieces that we want to invite into our home as a lifelong guest. We don’t have any specific parameters other than considering how the work would fit into our home and if we feel compelled to collect the artist’s work.

I think it’s always great to feel a sense of connection with the artist or the work, but often it’s for different reasons. For example, we recently purchased a work by Phillippe Decrauzat, not only because he happened to be from our hometown of Lausanne, Switzerland, but also because his work has a resonance to us—it’s an extremely stimulating piece. When several factors like this come together, it makes it easier for us to make such an investment. Each piece is unique and, frankly, for us, the story of how we came to that artist, gallery, or work varies so much.

Robert Mangold, installation view of Semi-Circle IV, 1995. Photo by Kevin Scott. Courtesy of David Montalba.

Andy Denzler, installation view of Sleepwalker II, 2019. Photo by Kevin Scott. Courtesy of David Montalba.

What is the biggest challenge you encounter as an art collector? How have you overcome it?

I think the biggest challenge varies based on the stage you’re in as a collector. For example, in our twenties, the challenge was finding the resources to invest, and now, it’s more about the challenge of not having enough wall space for the works. That is a problem I guess I’m more than well qualified to solve, but nonetheless, having the right space for the work and curating a collection that feeds your soul, supports artists you appreciate, works well with the curation of your home, and hopefully is a good long-term investment, is part of the fun of collecting. We see collecting as a lifelong journey and process.

How do you build relationships with galleries?

I really enjoy seeing shows, and during our travels I make it a point to try and see as many shows and galleries as possible. It’s often in this rather casual way that we have found ourselves talking to gallerists and getting to know galleries and their works. Certainly, the art fairs and major exhibitions are a nice way to stay in touch with galleries and curators, so we do try to go to three to four each year, like Frieze Los Angeles, Art Basel, and the Venice Biennale.

Ed Moses, installation view of Any Which Way, 2007. Photo by Kevin Scott. Courtesy of David Montalba.

How does your perspective and expertise as an architect influence the way you collect art?

Great question. I skew towards finding works that fit the space and consider the adjacent works, the quality of the natural light, and the physical space the work needs to breathe. It’s easier for me to consider finding works for a specific home or project than to curate a show in a gallery, or collect a large body of work without knowing how it would be shown.

Also in regards to architecture, I really see art as a way to balance out a space and bring another dimension to the overall experience of a home or project. In some of the homes we’ve designed, certain walls were created for certain pieces of art in the client’s collection. We’re also working on a house in Malibu that is specifically designed to enhance the client’s sculpture collection, which will be on display in the surrounding landscape of the home.

Debra Scacco, installation view of this is our future, 2014. Photo by Kevin Scott. Courtesy of David Montalba.

When you’re deciding whether or not to buy an artist’s work, what’s the most important information that helps you make that decision?

I think this is all about why you want it. Does it make you feel good? Does it give you a reason to question what you considered in the past? I believe great art creates a dialogue with the audience and, as they say, “speaks to you.”

What do you enjoy most about being a collector?

So many things. The continued education, exposure, desire to collect. Learning how other creatives see the world, master their craft, and shape their practice inspires and drives me to see more. It pushes me to understand others and ultimately gain further insight into the creative process. In the end, I hope through my collecting that I am able to support other artists and curate a collection that both inspires and sheds light on how we see the world.

Artsy Editorial

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of an artist. He is Pieter Vermeersch, not Pieter Vermeesch.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include a mention of the book “Place and Space.”