Chemist Brent Donovan Shares his Print Collection

With a rich print collection including works by Sol LeWitt, Ryan McGinness, and Fred Tomaselli, Brent Donovan combines his passions, art and science. Donovan moved to the New York area in the ’90s and has since covered the walls of his Summit, New Jersey home with works on paper. A chemist, Donovan is drawn to process-based works or prints that feature science in a prominent way. A regular attendee of IFPDA Print Fair, Donovan spoke with us about what he looks for in a print and offered his insights on collecting.

Artsy: How did you begin collecting art?

Brent Donovan: I began collecting probably soon after I moved to this area. My father has always been involved in different artistic endeavors and once I moved to the New York/New Jersey area, with art galleries and everything around, my interest changed from looking at art to collecting art.

My interest in prints started with Sol LeWitt. I’m a chemist and so I inherently understand how to use a symbolic framework to convey a physical phenomenon. So, once I saw how LeWitt was applying rules to his art and ending up with an unexpected or beautiful result, that was kind of it for me. Having rules and being able to make something out of them was really appealing to me, so as soon as I saw all of that, I wanted to own the works, and that’s how I started collecting art.

Artsy: How do you go about buying a print?

BD: I’ve worked with a lot of galleries in New York and I’m always interested in what is being shown at fairs but I would say that my interest probably typically begins with a specific work. After seeing a work that interests me I typically try to find out more about the artist, and ultimately I make a purchase after I have done research on not only the artist but how the print is made. I’m interested in printing techniques that in the end result in creating the image. I’m a big fan of Mel Bochner and the process he goes through to create his text pieces, making the text and the paper at the same time; I think that’s very interesting and so I’m drawn to those types of process-based works.

Artsy: What has been your experience with IFPDA?

BD: I’ve attended that fair for a number of years and I’m always amazed at the breadth and the survey of different types of works on paper that you can see there. Walking through the show every year is like going to an art class.

Artsy: Can you talk us through some of your favorite works in your collection?

BD: One of my favorite pieces is a Ryan McGinness print that I bought from Pace Prints. It’s a six-by-six foot canvas with buttons pinned to it. I’m actually a big fan of McGinness; I like the way he takes icons and iconography and uses them to convey an idea. What I really like about this piece I bought, Island Universes (Deer), from 2007, is that basically he’s taken these buttons with information on them, and kind of stylized them to build the image of one of his icons.

In addition, some of the Sol LeWitt’s I have are some of my favorites. I have a couple of “Loops and Curves” works from him. I think the first print I bought, in the mid to late ’90s, was a small “Loops and Curves” print.

I also recently bought some prints by Fred Tomaselli that I really like: they’re the New York Times covers. What drew me to them was that there were several covers he had tackled that were either science or physics related. The first one I bought was of the New York Times cover of the Higgs Boson discovery.

Artsy: You’ve mentioned your favorite artists. Are there any artists you’re looking to collect or artists that we should we be watching?

BD: I just attended the KAWS show in Philadelphia, so certainly I think we’re going to see a lot more from him. An artist that I really like that I’ve thought about seriously collecting is Yoshitomo Nara; he’s done some works on paper but I’m interested to see what he does in the future.

Artsy: What is the most impressive print you have ever encountered?

BD: I think some of Julie Mehretu’s prints that I’ve seen are amazing. She’s done some larger ones that are collections of smaller works and read as well as her canvases. I’m very impressed by them.

Artsy: What resources did you use starting out as a new collector? What advice would you offer someone else?

BD: I think living in the New York area is very helpful, having so many print resources available and being able to easily visit galleries. In the last few years I have started using more websites, including the previews that Artsy does of art fairs. I find there’s a very nice way to go online and look at a wide range of works, see what appeals to you and then go to a fair and see works in person and see if you respond to them the same way.

Explore IFPDA on Artsy.

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