By John Thomason Portraits by Eduardo Schneider
A movement of mostly millennial South Florida art collectors, with tastes as varied as the art world itself, has emerged. They are building their collections at a time when acquiring art has become more welcoming and democratized than ever before. The seven-figure Sotheby’s auctions and celebrity-attended art fairs still exist, but they do so alongside a robust social media marketplace, where more modest collectors and artists are rewriting the narrative. “We’re not buying Picassos, and that’s certainly not in our wheelhouse,” says Fort Lauderdale’s Jake Wurzak, who collects with his wife, Kristin. “You can learn about a new or upcoming artist you can buy for no money at all, and whether that appreciates or not, as long as you really like it, that’s the most important thing. Our other friends are buying art from super-emerging artists for $100. It’s more accessible now than ever, because the internet allows you to make an informed pricing decision.”
Locally, this movement has found its locus at NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale. Bonnie Clearwater, director and chief curator at the downtown institution, has witnessed the growth of young collectors who are curious about art and open-minded about its endless variations. Whitney and Matt Lane, Kristin and Jake Wurzak, Miles and Tara Forman are at the center of this collective. “They gravitated to the museum because of their passion in collecting,” Clearwater says. “And it formed a very strong group of friends. Each one has their own circle who are also interested. The Curators Circle is a great way to learn about the art world, to get to meet collectors, dealers, curators, critics and artists, so that they really become familiar and build up their own eye.”
Kristin Wurzak, Miles Forman and Whitney Lane sit on the board of governors at NSU Art Museum, and they helped form its newest membership level, the Curators Circle. Formally inaugurated on November 17, 2021, with a private gala at the museum, the group supports aspiring collectors while helping to increase the museum’s own archive—a portion of their membership funds go directly to the acquisition of new work for the permanent collection. (Any self-defined “young” collector can join the Curators Circle for an annual cost of $1,525.) On the following pages, meet the Curators Circle’s founding couples, whose homes radiate with their favorite selections.
The wittiest or most dystopian work—depending on how you look at it—in Whitney and Matt Lane’s collection can be easy to miss, unless ceiling fixtures are your thing. It looks like part of a home security system, because it is, in fact, a recycled security camera emblazoned with the Facebook logo, tilted down toward the living room—the all-seeing eye of Zuck, invading our private lives as well as our algorithms. The piece by Fidia Falaschetti is one of more than a dozen eclectic works in the Fort Lauderdale home the Lanes share with their two children, ages 4 and 1. The collection began in 2012, when Whitney commissioned a three-dimensional textile assemblage from London’s Waller Hewett. They discovered the artist at an affordable art fair in New York City, where they lived at the time, and Whitney surprised Matt with the piece, with its dozens of hand-dyed cotton balls, for his birthday.
Their collection has grown to include Vaughn Spann’s intense mixed-media painting “Wind,” a draped installation by Eric N. Mack, and a photorealistic oil painting by Thomas Bils. The Lanes discovered the latter two artists through their recent exhibitions at NSU Art Museum. “Initially, we gravitated toward more bright, colorful, abstract works, and then as we delved deeper into the art world,” Whitney, 34, says “our scope has widened, and now includes landscape and figurative works, and it’s much more open.”
Whitney grew up in a home with contemporary art, presented by parents with a keen eye for design. “I studied the artwork and learned about the artists by engaging in conversations with my parents. It was a way for me to learn about history, various cultures and artists’ processes,” she recalls. While Matt, 33, who manages the Waterstone Resort in Boca Raton, also cultivated an appreciation for art at an early age, he never imagined he’d be a collector—“it was just something you’d see on a wall in these beautiful museums”—until Whitney introduced him to Art Basel Miami Beach, in 2008, while both were enrolled at the University of Miami. “It opened my eyes,” he says. “I loved that it represented much more than painting, but it had this entire community. It showed how dynamic the industry was as a whole. I also learned that not every painting is $1 million, and there are these emerging artists where you could find something really nice that you could afford as a college kid.” Though they also own three blue-chip pieces by KAWS, most of the Lanes’ collection still constitutes up-and-coming artists. Part of the fun of collecting, they say, is forming personal bonds with artists. Regarding Thomas Bils, for instance, “Whitney and I are talking to him on Instagram all the time,” Matt says. “Here’s this artist who has a museum show and we’re able to communicate with one another; ‘What else are you working on? When’s your next show?’ And the relationship you’re able to cultivate—you couldn’t have done it in the past. It’s all stemmed from NSU Art Museum.”
Miles and Tara Forman bought their first Banksy out of the trunk of somebody’s car in a Shake Shack parking lot. In was around 2012, so the Forman’s were relatively early adopters. The piece was “Trolley Hunters,” the iconic screen print of natives in an open field, pointing primitive weapons at a trio of incongruous shopping carts.
As Miles recalls, he had all but manifested the print as a turning point in their shared collecting hobby. “I’m laying in bed, and looking at the ceiling, and I said, ‘You know what? If I’m going to spend this money on a piece of art, I want to get something I’ve always wanted. I’m going to get a Banksy.’”
A decade or so later, the Forman’s own seven Banksy’s, part of a collection that is now in the high double digits. It includes an enormous untitled painting by KAWS—also a shrewd early investment, before the artist became a global phenomenon—as well as a diamond-dusted Warhol portrait of ballet dancer Karen Kain and a rich trove of rock ‘n’ roll photographs by pioneering photographer Herb Ritts. All of it enlivens their home in Sea Ranch Lakes, where they’re raising two children (ages 8 and 10).
If there’s a theme that at least partially unifies the collection, it’s an interest in rebellious humor, from Banksy and Mr. Brainwash—whose print depicting a detonation of Jeff Koons’ balloon dogs hangs not far from “Trolley Hunters”—to Ai Weiwei. The Forman’s own one of the Chinese dissident’s Neolithic vases, which Weiwei emblazoned with the Coca-Cola logo to make a statement about the Communist Party’s erasure of culture.
“Both Tara and I love satire,” Miles, 46, says. “In our collection, you’ll see a lot of satire. It’s unique in that way.”
“I think it’s important when you’re collecting art that you do find some sort of style that you like,” adds Tara, 42, who finds joy in curating the work around their home. “It’s like building an outfit. Then you just build the wardrobe with it, and it makes more sense to me that way. It doesn’t have to match, but it flows.”
Miles, a gregarious pontificator on all things cultural, has feet in both the art and popular entertainment worlds; he has run a record label and has produced for movies and TV, including the 2005 documentary “Fatboy: The Movie,” about his weight-loss journey. Their Sea Ranch Lakes house, which they moved into in May 2021 from their previous home in Fort Lauderdale’s Rio Vista community, includes a theater with a bar and surround sound, all the better for binging on Miles’ latest Criterion Blu-ray box set.
While Miles acknowledges art is an appreciable commodity—the sort that may eventually afford such lifestyle perks—he advises against buying solely for value. “Collecting is very personal for both of us,” he says. “We do not collect art to invest. We never buy any art because we think it’s going to go up in price. It’s always on the premise that it speaks to us, and we think the artist is talented. That’s the hobby”.
“And I would say for anyone who wants to start collecting art, do not be intimidated at all. Look at some famous artists that you like, and then from there, you’ll find out what your taste is, and then you can go out and explore and discover new artists. I have a reputation around town; I’ll help anyone get into art, and I’ll help them not get ripped off. For free. I’ll help steer them in the right direction.”
Every evening, Fort Lauderdale’s Kristin and Jake Wurzak have a view of the San Francisco Bay at sunset. But it’s no postcard vista. Photographer Eric Cahan’s image of the famous body of water, without the crutch of Photoshop, transforms it into a mesmerizing and ethereal blend of abstract colors: purples fading into pinks and blues in ombré harmony. “He puts different films in front of his camera lens so he’s able to capture the different shades of the sunset and how that impacts water and sky,” Kristin, 36, says. “We love this color scheme. It’s very soothing to have in our house, but it’s also interesting and changes based on the light and time of day.”
Like so many well-chosen, well-placed pieces of art, it is hard to imagine their living room without it. A work of awesome immensity, it gazes down at a coffee table, on which an orchid centerpiece is framed by symmetrical stacks of heavy and beautiful design books, a reflection of the couple’s shared interest in all things aesthetically pleasing. “I’m typically drawn to pretty things, and nice things to look at, and Kristin is, too,” Jake, 36, says. Of the Cahan photograph, he adds, “I think energy is very important generally and the sun’s a good source of energy. So sunrise and sunset is … a time of day I always like.” Kristin bought the piece as a birthday present for Jake in 2015, and with that purchase, they became art collectors. Their collection now totals about six pieces, and they describe themselves as relative newbies compared to the Lane’s and the Forman’s.
But each acquisition is a vessel for their memories, reflecting their shared experiences. An abstract diptych by Martha Rea Baker in the foyer was purchased in Santa Fe and is a permanent reminder of their vacation to the art-filled New Mexican capital. “I didn’t expect to see that, which is part of the fun of traveling and seeing new places; walking into a gallery and seeing some art that you wouldn’t have ordinarily seen,” Kristin says. In the kitchen, a photograph of elephants Jake snapped on their honeymoon in Africa was converted to black-and-white and blown up by a printer in California. “When you strip out all the colors, you can really see the soul and the essence from it,” Jake says. “It was unique to have elephants that close to you. It was not an everyday occurrence. I still love looking at that piece.” The Wurzak’s, who have two children, a 7-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son, are the definition of a power couple. Kristin is president of Dayton-Granger, a third-generation aerospace manufacturer. Jake runs a vertically integrated hotel management investment platform, which includes The Dalmar hotel in Fort Lauderdale. But they invest wisely and sparingly, with an eye toward the future.
“What we wanted to focus on, as we’re up and coming in our careers, is finding artists who are up and coming in their careers,” Jake says. “I think it’s really amazing to support others and watch them grow because people have supported us as we’ve continued to grow professionally and personally. Instead of collecting people that are much more established, I think it’s fun to collect people that are emerging and you can establish yourselves together.”