Maria Brito on the Creative Act of Collecting
Portrait of Maria Brito. Courtesy of Maria Brito.
In January 2009, Maria Brito left her job as a corporate attorney to develop her own art advisory business—and she never looked back. Now, she’s a sought-after advisor with celebrity clients like Gwyneth Paltrow and Sean Combs, as well as an esteemed curator, collector, and author with over 141,000 Instagram followers. And though Brito is deeply entrenched in the art industry, she’s also become an expert on the power of creativity, within and far beyond the art world.
In her new book How Creativity Rules the World: The Art and Business of Turning Your Ideas into Gold, published earlier this week, Brito shares insights and tips regarding how to harness creativity to drive innovation. Through drawing on her own experiences, research studies, and the careers of highly successful artists and entrepreneurs, she demonstrates the essential role of creativity in the present.
In time with the release of How Creativity Rules the World, we caught up with Brito to learn about the role of creativity in collecting.
Cover design by Allison Zuckerman.
You write that you started collecting in 2000 when you moved to New York. What prompted you to start?
I make a reference in my book that when I was growing up in Venezuela, my grandfather had a very eclectic art collection and was a painter himself—something he did on weekends and not as a profession (even though he was very good at it). I also write that my dad took me to every gallery, museum, art fair, and artist’s studio with him, so this idea about living with art had been very ingrained in my mind since I was a child.
When I moved to New York, I rented a one-bedroom in the Upper West Side that was located in a brownstone owned by a Venezuelan real estate investor (it was pure chance that we were both from the same country) and his wife who was an artist. They lived on the ground floor and had a huge apartment filled with art, and that inspired me.
I decided that I also wanted to live with art, and that was at the time when you really had to go out to the galleries in person and couldn’t see or buy art on the internet or social media. That’s how I started.
How does your collection reflect your creativity? Do you consider collecting a creative act?
My collection reflects my interests, the things I love, the things that move me, but also the things that make me think and expand my point of view. The creative aspect comes from the way I arrange the art that I have and the dialogue that seemingly disparate things may have among themselves.
Collecting is definitely a creative act, and I am constantly adding, rearranging, and trying to figure out how to make everything look fresh again.
Can you tell us about the creativity that goes into collecting—for yourself and in working as an advisor with clients?
Creativity is not one thing—it is an amalgamation of many skills and habits that people tend to forget they already possess. Risk-taking, autonomy, and curiosity are all part of being creative.
Every time I take a chance on an emerging artist, every time I look at something that triggers my curiosity, I stimulate my creative mind and the same thing happens with my clients.
The best collections I’ve been able to put together are those where the clients take chances with artists that are almost unknown at the time, but then become important. I love working with pioneering collectors who listen and act when I present them with those options. It’s not a coincidence that they are the people with the most creative minds and interesting lives, regardless of what they do.
There is an endless exchange of feelings and ideas that flows between a piece of art and what the artist intended and the interpretation that a collector may have. Collecting art is about so many things, but being a part of a cultural moment and having the incredible aesthetic, intellectual, and emotional payout that comes from living with art are at the top of the list.
Can you tell us a bit about your collection and how you go about collecting for yourself?
I see so much art and have been in this industry for 13 years, so I have created certain parameters for myself. Most of the works I have bought moved me a lot when I first saw them—that is very important to me. It has to surprise me, excite me, interest me. It’s not about having something that everyone has, it is about that visual and emotional stimulation. I also ask myself, “What would this look like in 10 years? 20 years? Will I still be as excited to see this every day?”
I favor emerging artists but that is almost a misnomer these days—they are already so good in their early twenties, and then this crazy market blows their prices up, and you end up with a collection of young artists that have become insanely expensive in a short period of time. I almost never buy anything that is above $10,000, yet almost everything I have bought has grown in value 10 times or more.
I collect mostly paintings but I also have a couple of interesting photographs and sculptures. I love bold colors and vivid compositions with great narratives. I have mostly figurative works, many Black artists, many female artists. I love the backstories about how each piece made it into my collection, where they came from and why. That makes everything even more special to me.
What drives you to collect?
I am driven by many factors: beauty, aesthetics, owning a piece of culture, interesting narratives, intellectual stimulation, the excitement of discovery. There is also expression, not only of the artists, but mine. That is true of every collector: They express who they are through the work they own.
Who are some of the artists you’re excited about now? Artists you’ve discovered recently?
So many! They are all so good. Cydne Jasmin Coleby is one of them; every time I see one of her new paintings, my heart skips a beat. I love Ryan Wilde’s intricate patterns, weird characters, and references to art history. I also bought a Wynnie Mynerva painting at Untitled in Miami this past December and I am seriously obsessed with the work.
Does living with art inspire your own creativity? Are there particularly artists or works that spark your creativity?
Absolutely. Part of being creative comes from an ability to understand and synthesize different ideas and a variety of points of views. That is what an art collection should do for a collector. If it’s all homogeneous and concentrated in one perspective, it’s hard to get the benefit of expansion. Nothing creative or innovative in business or in art comes from tunnel vision or from ideas that are pure.
Another important aspect of creativity is your ability to pay attention to details. I use an example in my book from a professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine who realized that his students couldn’t accurately describe what they were seeing in patients unless they had identified familiar patterns or seen similar cases before. This professor developed a course that is now mandatory for all first-year medical students. They have to look at 18th- and 19th-century paintings at the Yale Center for British Art for 15 minutes and extract the visual information and describe everything they see. This course improves their attention dramatically, and it is all because of looking at paintings.
I am always looking at the art that surrounds me to see what new detail I can find. That definitely helps with my ability to spot business opportunities or do something that nobody else is doing. Originality and relevance are the core of creativity.