Gallerist Bryan Walsh is always on the cutting edge of what’s next in the art world. And his West Palm Beach home is filled with those discoveries.
When Bryan Walsh talks about art, his passion is clear. Lucky for him, he gets to live that passion on a daily basis, both as a dealer and as a collector.
Well known in Palm Beach County for heading DTR Modern Galleries in Palm Beach, Walsh brings to his clients works by the greats in the modern and contemporary art world, as well as emerging artists he believes might become the Picassos of tomorrow. It’s a business that serves him well in the more personal matter of collecting. “Being in the industry is beneficial to me,” he says. “It opens my eyes to what’s new and gives me an inside track to the latest exciting artists.”
Born and raised in Florida, Walsh has spent the last 20 years developing an insatiable passion for art. “[Collecting] is addictive,” he says. “It snowballs and can take over.” His early works were those he inherited from his grandmother, which were traditional landscapes. But as time passed, his taste changed dramatically, and his collection is now strictly modern and contemporary with some diversions into pre-Columbian pieces and other antiquities that “serve as a kind of counterbalance.”
His first must-have acquisition was a sculpture: Woman with Arms (1997). The striking classical piece with a contemporary slant by Colombian artist Lina Binkele was the start of what is now a collection of 150 works. “Wall space has reached capacity at my house,” laments the West Palm Beach resident. “I find I need to rotate pieces in order to be able to see them. I’m constantly playing musical chairs with my collection. If I don’t have the space, I give pieces to friends to enjoy.”
Photography by Jerry Rabinowitz
Among his collection are household names like Warhol, Picasso, Koons, and Haring, as well as newer works he finds interesting. Walsh keeps his eyes open for new talent and is always willing to meet artists recommended by friends. “As a gallerist, emerging artists tend to come to you, and when I take someone on, I stand behind him or her 100 percent,” he says. “You never know what an artist might become, and that makes each day so exciting.”
The quality he looks for in an emerging artist is a fresh voice or perspective that captivates. One person he is following at the moment is Brooklyn-based graffiti artist Christopher Florentino, better known as Flore. Flore’s colorful canvases are covered with small notes with lettering and written messages that fill the work with energy and life as they appear to pop off the canvas.
There is a surrealist element to many of the works in Walsh’s collection, as seen in the nine iconic black-and-white Piero Fornasetti plates of the artist’s muse, Italian soprano Lina Cavalieri. Artfully mounted together, each plate is centered in a black square frame, all within a larger frame. Beneath sits Le Cabinet Anthropomorphique (1982) by Salvador Dalí, a small bronze sculpture of a man whose body is made up of small drawers. “I’ve always loved the works of Dalí, Magritte, and other surrealist artists,” says Walsh. In the same room are two framed ceramic plates by Picasso and a graphic text-based piece by controversial street artist Thierry Guetta, a.k.a. Mr. Brainwash, suspected by some to be an alter ego of the elusive Banksy. In Keep Creating (2011), the French-born, Los Angeles–based artist sets large white lettering against a black background to send the message “Art cannot be criticized because every mistake is a new creation.”
A friend introduced Walsh to Slovakian artist Juro Kralik, who plays with illusion in Black & White (2015). Seen from the right side, the painting reveals the word “white” in large black letters, embedded in a white background; from the left, the word becomes “black” in white letters on a black background. Nearby hangs a piece from Hunt Slonem’s rabbit series that he started in the 1980s: Regine’s Black Diamond (2017). Slonem began using rabbits as subject matter after learning that the year of his birth, 1951, was the Chinese year of the rabbit. And dominating one wall is Chuck Close’s striking Self Portrait (2000) in shades of gray. “I would love to meet Chuck Close one day,” says Walsh. “I particularly wanted one of his self-portraits. They have become the most quintessential of his works.”
Among all the black and white, there is no shortage of color in Walsh’s delightful 1920s home. On the dining room table, a series of Jeff Koons’ brightly colored Balloon Dogs are lined up in their individual display cases. “I love them and can’t wait to get the next color,” says Walsh. “Although Koons is often referred to as the ‘king of kitsch,’ these are such fun and playful pieces.” Perched atop pedestals close by are two more Koons pieces: the highly polished magenta Balloon Venus from the 2008-2012 series and the glazed ceramic Puppy (1998). Behind the dining room table hangs one of Walsh’s favorite works: a powerful and colorful silk-screen portrait of Sitting Bull (1986) by Andy Warhol. The piece is a nod to Walsh’s Cherokee Indian heritage, which also includes Irish and German in the mix.
In a corner above two white sofas hang two contrasting pieces. Walsh describes Citta Samtana Metonymy Diptych 9 (2016), a large multi-colored work by Canadian-born artist James Verbicky: “It’s a mixed-media wall hanging made up of vintage fashion magazines held together in resin and stainless steel with LED lighting. It’s a complex piece, and I keep finding words I haven’t seen before.” Next to the Verbicky is a 3-D photographic print on polymer of The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (2013), Damien Hirst’s famous shark in a tank of formaldehyde.
When Walsh married his partner of 14 years, Matthew Holland, this past summer, many of the couple’s artist friends attended the celebration and presented them with artwork as wedding gifts. One guest, German-born artist Rainer Lagemann, gifted them with Big Love (2017), a stainless-steel heart-shaped sculpture. The piece served as the backdrop during the ceremony and now has a home in the couple’s garden, where it joins Lagemann’s life-size male figure, Standing Ground (2012). Inside the home are more works by the Miami resident, including Devotion (2011), a large male torso that rises from a white pedestal near the staircase.
The garden’s tropical plantings create a magical setting for the larger sculptures in Walsh’s collection. A geometric white metal piece by Florida artist Jane Manus, Parallel Planes (2015), stands at one end of the garden, while Matt Devine’s gracefully intertwining White Wedding (2017) rises like a swaying sheath of giant metal blades of grass against the vegetation. Walsh fell in love with Devine’s work the first time he saw one of his monumental pieces. “I knew I could not afford that piece, but I asked Matt if I could commission him to make a smaller version,” he says. He describes Devine’s Happy Shiny (2015), which sits on the coffee table in front of the fireplace in the living room, as resembling rolling tumbleweed with its many delicate, twig-like pieces of stainless steel.
Placed on various shelves and tables throughout the home are a number of interesting sculptures. A piece by Mexican-born Robert Graham, Arm of Joe Louis (1984), is an extremely powerful sight. Suspended by rope from an iron frame, the tightly fisted, life-size man’s arm thrusts forward as if about to strike. Companion Black Colorway (2016)—an 8-inch-tall, half-human, Mickey Mouse–like character by Brian Donnelly—delights Walsh. “Donnelly, known as KAWS, started as a graffiti artist and has become very collectable,” he says. “I wish I had discovered him earlier. His paintings have quadrupled in value.”
As the art market reaches new heights, there will always be works that may be out of his reach. But for Walsh, it’s “the new and unexpected” that excites him about collecting. “I tell my clients that what they buy has to make them happy,” he says. “That should be the priority for all collectors, including me. And if you’re lucky, it may also turn out to be a good investment.”
Bryan Walsh of DTR Modern Galleries in Palm Beach offers some advice
- Always buy a work of art because you like it; not just as an investment. Sometimes you can have both, but above all, buy a piece because you love it and will enjoy living with it. I purchased a Warhol, Sitting Bull, some time ago because it really spoke to me. It is considered blue-chip, and it does go up in value every year, but that wasn’t the point. Even if it was not worth anything, I’d still love looking at it every day.
- Diversify your collection. It is fine to have multiple works by one artist, but make sure you have a variety in your collection as well. Don’t be afraid to mix styles of art. I find it really works to have an eclectic mix.
- Always buy from a reputable and established source. Good places to look are art galleries, auction houses, or online art sales platforms like Artsy and 1stdibs. Be wary of sites like eBay, where there are a lot of fakes. You really have to know what you’re looking at and have a trained eye if you’re going to buy art on sites like that. And remember: If the price is too good to be true, then it usually is.
- Don’t be afraid to take a chance on emerging or unknown artists. Everyone has to start somewhere, and you never know who could be the next Warhol. Graffiti art (urban art) is a movement that is really coming into its own and should not be snubbed by serious collectors. It is a very valid art form and is here to stay.
- Be willing to move in a new direction. Sell what is no longer working for you to make room for something new and interesting.