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Art Market

Kent Belden’s Collection of Portraiture Highlights Vibrant, Historically Marginalized Figures

Portrait of Kent Belden and Louis Re by Douglas Friedman and Reid Rolls. Courtesy of Kent Belden.

Portrait of Kent Belden and Louis Re by Douglas Friedman and Reid Rolls. Courtesy of Kent Belden.

Installation view of Kent Belden’s collection. Photo by  Douglas Friedman and Reid Rolls. Courtesy of Kent Belden.

Installation view of Kent Belden’s collection. Photo by Douglas Friedman and Reid Rolls. Courtesy of Kent Belden.

As a senior creative director for Epic Records, Kent Belden spent years at photo shoots, helping coordinate perfect portraits of musicians including Celine Dion, Shakira, Anastasia, and Garbage. In 2014, he founded The Only Agency, which links creative talent—stylists, photographers, hair and makeup artists—with editorial, advertising, and red-carpet projects featuring stars from Beyoncé to Lady Gaga, Cher to Lizzo. Belden’s entire career, in other words, has been dedicated to creating expressive images and maintaining meaningful creative connections: a drive that has also guided more than two decades of art collecting.
Belden has filled his homes in Watermill, Manhattan, and Los Angeles with figurative painting and photography that’s as committed to storytelling as his own work has been. Over the years, Belden’s collecting habits have become increasingly focused—and political. Belden and his husband, orthopedic surgeon Louis Re, find a sense of solidarity in the compositions they collect: The pair supports artists who strive to make historically marginalized groups visible.
Installation view of Kent Belden’s collection. Photo by Douglas Friedman and Reid Rolls. Courtesy of Kent Belden.

Installation view of Kent Belden’s collection. Photo by Douglas Friedman and Reid Rolls. Courtesy of Kent Belden.

Belden grew up in a creative household in Southern California. His mother was a public school art teacher, who took him to museums and instilled an early aesthetic appreciation. He recalls seeing images of his favorite rock musician, Siouxsie Sioux, and of metal legends Kiss and enjoying the “theatrical, emotional” quality of the pictures. “That’s what’s seeped into the collection we have,” he said.
Given his engagement with fashion photography, and a predilection for portraiture that veers towards the extreme, it’s no surprise that in the 1990s, Belden was attracted to the work of one particular out-there young photographer: Belden’s first major art purchase was a Terry Richardson picture, back in 1995. Since then, women have made numerous assault allegations against Richardson. “In hindsight, I would have never supported his work knowing these allegations,” Belden said. Since hearing them, Belden noted that “Richardson’s photographs serve as a constant reminder of the white male privilege that is so prevalent in our society today.”
Installation view of Kent Belden’s collection. Photo by Douglas Friedman and Reid Rolls. Courtesy of Kent Belden.

Installation view of Kent Belden’s collection. Photo by Douglas Friedman and Reid Rolls. Courtesy of Kent Belden.

Installation view of Kent Belden’s collection. Photo by Douglas Friedman and Reid Rolls. Courtesy of Kent Belden.

Installation view of Kent Belden’s collection. Photo by Douglas Friedman and Reid Rolls. Courtesy of Kent Belden.

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In recent years, Belden and Re have turned to painters who are rethinking the art-historical canon. Belden has acquired three paintings by , that master of dramatic, large-scale, highly romantic compositions that situate contemporary Black figures in regal, decorative backgrounds. One of Belden’s purchases, Tired Mercury (2018), features a woman from Ferguson, Missouri, standing in the posture of a 1907 sculpture of the same name. The Aitken version belongs to the Saint Louis Art Museum; with his series, Wiley linked members of the Ferguson community—where the police murdered 18-year-old Michael Brown in 2014—with one of greater St. Louis’s most esteemed cultural institutions. Another of Belden’s holdings, Portrait of Tuatini Manate (2019), hails from Wiley’s series of the Mahu, a community of transgender women who have lived and thrived in Tahiti for centuries. Wiley’s paintings can be hard to come by, but Belden has established a long and fruitful relationship with Wiley’s gallery Roberts + Tilton (now Roberts Project).
Belden connects with Wiley’s larger aesthetic aim of rectifying Western culture. Growing up, he didn’t see himself represented in art history, either. “As a gay person, it’s a very similar feeling,” said Belden. “All of a sudden there’s this renaissance of appreciation for female painters, African American painters, gay painters.” Though this kind of work has been at the forefront of critical and commercial discourse for nearly a decade, Belden noted that that popularity is still relatively recent within the scope of Western art history.
Lisa Yuskavage, Small Home, 2018. Courtesy of David Zwirner.

Lisa Yuskavage, Small Home, 2018. Courtesy of David Zwirner.

Caroline Walker, Window Dressing, 2018. Courtesy of GRIMM, Amsterdam | New York and Anat Ebgi Gallery.

Caroline Walker, Window Dressing, 2018. Courtesy of GRIMM, Amsterdam | New York and Anat Ebgi Gallery.

As for female painters, Belden mentioned his interest in and , whose practices are radically different from each other. With audible awe in his voice, he called Yuskavage an “amazing feminist” whose work he was thrilled to finally purchase from a 2015 David Zwirner show. He bought a drawing, Happy Couple (2014), which features two nude figures: Against a deep plum background, a woman stands above a man, looking down at his body. “You figure they’ve just had sex. But she’s standing in full power and he’s on the floor. She’s in her glory, in full control of the scene,” said Belden. More recently, he purchased a divinely strange, lime-lit oil-on-wood-panel work titled Small Home (2018), in which a woman wearing just chunky black shoes and high white socks confronts the viewer’s gaze head-on as she stares out from behind a pair of sunglasses.
As opposed to Yuskavage’s women, who tend to be partially—if at all—clothed and dripping with sex, Walker’s are fully buttoned up. Often, the Scottish painter captures her figures at work and in other professional settings. Belden owns Window Dressing (2018), which features a woman in a high-necked black garment, standing behind a counter.
Doron Langberg, Sleeping, 2020. © Doron Langberg. Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York.

Doron Langberg, Sleeping, 2020. © Doron Langberg. Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York.

Lisa Yuskavage, Happy Couple, 2014. Courtesy of David Zwirner.

Lisa Yuskavage, Happy Couple, 2014. Courtesy of David Zwirner.

As Belden has embraced the zeitgeist in the artists he’s chosen to collect, he’s also welcomed contemporary ways of discovering art. He found two of his favorite young artists, and , on Instagram. Both depict gay sex in very different styles. Belden noted the “dreamy,” hazy quality of a Langberg painting, with strokes that take a while to resolve into a figure. At The Armory Show in 2020, he and Re purchased Langberg’s 2020 canvas Sleeping, which features a nude man facing away from the viewer while reclining on a brilliantly hued bed—somber blues swirl into hot orange, with green and yellow accents. The painting has earned a prime position in the couple’s Watermill home: their own bedroom.
Fratino, on the other hand, makes perhaps more overt art-historical references. Belden mentioned ’s influence on the young artist. “Like Kehinde Wiley painting African American figures in these historical settings and giving them a place where they haven’t been before, Louis Fratino is doing the same thing for gay characters and love and courtship,” Belden said. He loves the way that gay sex in a Fratino painting feels “in your face and normal.” Belden’s Fratino painting, Holiday (2019), features a consortium of men draped around each other in a communal posture that recalls religious scenes of old. From Antoine Levi’s online viewing room, Belden recently purchased a crosshatched Fratino drawing, Tom in North Beach, Thanksgiving (2019), which features a man unbaring his body in front of a closet.
Installation view of Kent Belden’s collection. Photo by Douglas Friedman and Reid Rolls. Courtesy of Kent Belden.

Installation view of Kent Belden’s collection. Photo by Douglas Friedman and Reid Rolls. Courtesy of Kent Belden.

Louis Fratino, Tom in North Beach, Thanksgiving, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Antoine Levi.

Louis Fratino, Tom in North Beach, Thanksgiving, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Antoine Levi.

Despite this recent emphasis on painting, Belden’s photography collection still remains strong. He owns a photograph of drag performer Justin Bond and a black-and-white portrait of Robert Sherman, one of the artist’s favorite subjects; Sherman is a close friend of Belden’s. In confinement due to COVID-19, the collector is enjoying the company of the irrepressible personalities radiating from his walls. “These are the people I’ve been hanging out with for two months,” he said.
The collection isn’t pure portraiture, either: Belden also owns a lush forest landscape by and another landscape by . He’s also a fan of Los Angeles–based painter , who’s best known for domestic interior settings that feature exuberant floral patterns. Belden likes how bold the work is. The ornate, decorative element of Egan’s work also ties back to Wiley’s. Yet Belden is clear that Egan is an outlier within his collection. “I think Alec Egan is probably the only straight white male that we have in our collection,” he said. Belden’s intuitive collecting sensibilities have united a diverse trove of artworks. In times like these, their constant company offers very welcome camaraderie.
Alina Cohen