What I Buy and Why: Adam and Iris Singer on Finding a Big Treasure at a Tiny Auction House, and the Danger of Purchasing Art via Jpeg

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The empty walls of a new home can confer the same daunting and yet thrilling sense of possibility to an art collector as a blank canvas does to an artist. When the couple Adam and Iris Singer relocated from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Paradise Valley, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix, in the mid-2000s, they felt equal parts inspiration and consternation about where to begin. 

Over the past nearly 20 years, the Singers have moved from scouting art fairs with advisors to developing deep relationships of their own with artists. Adam, an entrepreneur, now serves on the boards of institutions including the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden and the Phoenix Art Museum.

The Singers don’t limit themselves to any particular style, medium, or even time period. “Iris and I have never pigeonholed the collection trying to collect one uniform style,” Adam said. “I love the fact that art has multiple styles and that when exhibited together they tend to speak and complement one another.”

This October, the exhibition In Our Time” at Arizona’s Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art will take a focused look at 40 works by 27 contemporary artists from the African diaspora in the Singer’s collection. The show includes work by Amoako Boafo, Mark Bradford, Jadé Fadojutimi, Derek Fordjour, and Toyin Ojih Odutola. 

We spoke with Adam Singer about the artwork that got away and what treasure the couple would save from a fire.

What was your most recent art purchase?

I am not sure which work would qualify as the most recent as Iris and I bought two the same week. But we are so excited to have purchased both a work by Derek Fordjour, Masons, Magicians, Showgirls & Kings (2021), and Naudline Pierre’s Assuredly, the Sun Shall Rise (2021–22).

Naudline Pierre and Adam Singer stand before Pierre's <i>Assuredly, the Sun Shall Rise</i>. Courtesy of the Singer Collection.

Naudline Pierre and Adam Singer stand before Pierre’s Assuredly, the Sun Shall Rise (2021–2022). Courtesy of the Iris and Adam Singer Collection.

Which works or artists are you hoping to add to your collection this year?

Iris and I generally have a wish list that we start at the beginning of each year. We have been lucky to have been able to check off a couple of artists but we do have a few more we have our eye on. Like many collectors, we would love to add a work by Calida Rawles or Michael Armitage to the collection—but that will be difficult as both artists are highly sought after and neither produces a lot of work.

Yoshitomo Nara, Titled (Year). Courtesy of the Iris and Adam Singer Collection.

Yoshitomo Nara, (2008). Courtesy of the Iris and Adam Singer Collection.

What is the most expensive work of art that you own?

Iris and I have been lucky as many of our works have appreciated in value. But as the market and taste is ever-changing, it is hard to say which work is the most expensive. We do have our favorites and that doesn’t change. Iris loves our Yoshitomo Nara painting. I would have a hard time choosing which painting I would grab if the house were on fire, but it would be between Mark Grotjahn and Mark Bradford. 

Courtesy of the Iris and Adam Singer Collection.

Vaughn Spann, (2020). Courtesy of the Iris and Adam Singer Collection.

Where do you buy art most frequently?

We tend to buy most of our artwork directly from galleries. Although I love to go to art fairs for the social aspects and discover new artists, it is not my preferred place to purchase work. I feel it is important to see multiple examples of an artist’s work and if possible choose one of your favorites from a specific body of work. Of course, if you are familiar with the artist’s practice, then an art fair can be a good resource as well.

Is there a work you regret purchasing?

I wouldn’t say regret, but my wife tells a funny story about when I purchased a work of art from a jpeg early in our early collecting days. The work was beautiful but on closer inspection, it turned out that it portrayed many sexual scenes and body parts… As our three daughters were very young at the time, we decided to hang the work in our bedroom. But that didn’t stop the conversations and curiosity of our daughters and their friends.

Franz Kline, Self-Portrait (1945).

Franz Kline, (1945). Courtesy of the Iris and Adam Singer Collection.

What work do you have hanging in your bathroom?

In our master bathroom, we have a fantastic work by Vaughn Spann, Locked In (the stare). But one of my favorite works is in our guest bathroom, a self-portrait by Franz Kline from 1945. I first saw the work in the Abstract Expressionism show at the Royal Academy of Art. To my disbelief, the work came up for sale at an obscure auction about six months after the exhibition ended, and I bought it. So, so lucky to have been exploring the auction catalogue and recognized the work!

What work do you wish you had bought when you had the chance?

Now, this question definitely opens up a few wounds! There are two artists who easily come to mind, but there are many more. First, I have always wanted a solid red or black Alexander Calder mobile pre-1965. I just love the way the mobiles move with perfect balance and cast shadows. The second artist is Christopher Wool. Early in our collecting, I fell in love with his text paintings and was determined to buy one. I felt as though I was the underbidder in three consecutive auction cycles right before his market exploded. I was the underbidder for his text work Fool (in blue) which became a feature piece in his retrospective at the Guggenheim. I guess I was the fool for not stretching more financially at the time.

Mark Bradford, tbc (2014). Courtesy of Iris and Adam Singer Collection.

Mark Bradford, (2014). Courtesy of Iris and Adam Singer Collection.

If you could steal one work of art without getting caught, what would it be?

There are so many works I fantasize about stealing! I will mention two of my top ones: Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough at the Huntington Library, and Three Flags by Jasper Johns at the Whitney Museum of American Art. But I would also love the opportunity to be a fly on the wall and just watch my favorite artist create work in his/her studio.

Mark Bradford, Wear the Bracelet (2008). Courtesy of Iris and Adam Singer Collection.

Mark Bradford, Wear the Bracelet (2008). Courtesy of Iris and Adam Singer Collection.

What does art mean to you?

For Iris and me, art gives our house life and character. When people visit the collection, they get a sense of our taste and can see into who we are as collectors. We enjoy the aesthetic aspect of art and appreciate artists for their ability to create the art—I personally don’t have an artistic bone in my body.

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