This Curator Fills His London Home with Mapplethorpe and Noguchi

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Oscar Humphries The Collectors Daisy Hoppen
Photography by Oscar Humphries

From vintage Tiffany & Co. silver to an obscure Mapplethorpe print, curator Oscar Humphries talks Daisy Hoppen through his collection of art

In the second in a new series, Daisy Hoppen, the founder of communications agency DH-PR, highlights prominent collectors from the worlds of fashion, art and design. Here, London-based curator and publisher Oscar Humphries highlights some of the most treasured pieces in his collection.

Oscar Humphries is a curator who has worked on a myriad of exhibitions, from collaborating with major international galleries to solo projects and shows. Most recently he also showed a solo stand at Frieze Masters, titled Sèvres & Japonism. I have always admired Oscar’s eye and his witty articulation on art and its culture. In addition, he has an elevated taste level – I am not the only person who is always eager to see and understand what and who he is following.

“I’ve been collecting art and design since my early twenties. I’d love to be a minimalist but it’s just impossible. I seem to have this strange relationship to objects, and need them around. My dad is a collector so maybe that’s how it began. But he and I have very different taste. When I first started buying things I was all over the place. One Hockney print. One African mask. One photograph. One Modernist vase. I’ve since learnt that you really need to focus. You can’t buy everything, and you have to be disciplined if you want to collect in a serious way. Otherwise you are just shopping, which is fun, but not the same thing. David Hockney once told me that the only person who likes every kind of art is an auctioneer. 

“I had some quite serious addiction problems about eight years ago. And it had a huge effect on my life and I had to sell a lot of the great art I owned. Since I got well and able to start collecting again I’ve become more careful. I buy what I love, but I also like looking for things that are undervalued. My wife and I collect contemporary art and 20th-century design mostly, and photography. Recently I’ve fallen in love with Japan and have started to make a collection of Japanese art, but also American and European art and design that is inspired by Japan. ‘Japonism’, the French call it. Everything I’m sharing here is either Japanese or inspired by it. In the 19th century people became obsessed – as I am – with Japan. It totally transformed furniture and jewellery and what people wore. The Impressionists all collected Japanese prints, so much of their work comes from this.”

“I like combining older things with modern work. For example I’ve started buying Tiffany & Co. silver from the 1880s that’s very Japanese in style. At the moment they’re sitting on a steel chair by Isamu Noguchi that was made in a small edition in the early 80s. They shouldn’t go together but they kind of work. Above the chair is an Irving Penn portrait of the artist Balthus. Probably the most ‘serious’ photo I own. I also have a weird Robert Mapplethorpe photo of a silver pitcher – made by an American silversmith in the 1880s and again in the Japanese style. The object he photographed was owned by his lover and patron Sam Wagstaff, who collected silver. I think I could only afford to buy it because no one else wanted a random Mapplethorpe image of a jug! They want flowers or sex by him, not this.

“Another example of combining the old and the new is the Nobuyoshi Araki Polaroid next to a 19th-century Shunga print that’s in my library. We have Noguchi lamps all over the house. I just buy the new ones that Vitra make. They’re still made by the same company who started making them for him in the 50s, so I don’t see the point of buying the expensive vintage ones. They’re the prefect light. And there are so many different versions of them. It was Terence Conran who first made them fashionable in the UK in the 70s. He was basically right about everything. 

“A recent discovery for me is the artist Masaaki Yamada (1930–2010). A hugely important but undervalued Japanese artist. I love his work. I don’t like to think about ‘investing’ in art but I think it’s also important to make smart choices. The final image is of a little wooden 19th-century Netsuke that I gave my beautiful wife Sophie. What’s the point of owning art if you have no one to share it with? The best thing about making exhibitions is that. To share one’s passion in the hope that others might feel and share that same passion.”

Daisy Hoppen is the founder of DH-PR, a London-based communications agency. She also works in house with a small number of brands, companies and personalities across fashion, art and culture.