Home Art collection What I Buy and Why: Hotelier Lena Evstafieva on Why She Buys the Work of Emerging Female Artists and Almost Never Sells

What I Buy and Why: Hotelier Lena Evstafieva on Why She Buys the Work of Emerging Female Artists and Almost Never Sells

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Lena Evstafieva may have made a professional leap when she decided to set up the hotel that became Villa Lena in 2013, with her musician and producer husband Jérôme Hadey, and Parisian restaurateur and nightclub owner Lionel Bensemoun. But the project became more than just a plan to redevelop the property in Tuscany, and Evstafieva barely left the art world behind.

The former curator of the Garage in Moscow and director of the Pace Gallery in London also runs the Villa Lena Foundation, a non-profit organization which offers artist residency and supports artists around the world working in a range of media, from visual art, music and film, to literature, fashion and interdisciplinary practices. The foundation is backed by an advisory board that includes Wu Tang Clan rapper RZA, fashion designer Barbara Casasola, curator Caroline Bourgeois, journalist Charlie Porter, architect Rafael de Cardenas and film curator Leonardo Bigazzi.

As an art collector, Evstafieva revealed that she was more “emotional” than “strategic”, rather than full of strategic planning. Emerging artists and women artists have become a major focus of her career as a collector. We caught up with Evstafieva about what she bought and why.

The photographic prints of Pieter Hugo Mallam Galadima Ahamadu with Jamis (2005), and Mallam Mantari Lamal with Mainasara (2005) from his series “The Hyena and the Other Men”, hanging at Villa Lena. Photo: Levgeny.

What was your first purchase (and how much did you pay for it)?

It was that of Pieter Hugo The Hyena and the Other Men series. I bought each for $1,000.

What was your last purchase?

A work by a former resident of Villa Lena Bradley Kerl. He painted a beautiful view of blooming flowers outside a window of our 19th century villa, and I had to buy it.

What works or artists do you hope to add to your collection this year?

I am an emotional collector, not a strategic collector. I don’t really foresee what kind of artists I would like to collect. I just react to certain pieces that I see coming. That said, in recent years I’ve started to pay more attention to female artists and would love to add works by Zhanna Kadyrova and Olga Chernysheva to my collection, both of whom I find such deep thinkers.

Bradley Kerl, This Sunburned Dream 2022, oil on canvas, Image courtesy of the artist

Bradley Kerl, This sunburnt dream (2022). Image courtesy of the artist.

What is the most expensive work of art you own?

I can tell you which work is the most expensive per square inch: an overpainted photograph by Gerhard Richter from the 1990s.

Where do you most often buy art?

Everywhere, but I find art fairs to be the most effective way.

Is there a work you regret buying?

No, I usually don’t regret any purchase and, in fact, I would have to sell a work due to exceptional circumstances.

Kathleen Ryan, Untitled, 2017. Glazed ceramic, chromed steel, 70 x 30 x 25 inches, 177.8 x 76.2 x 63.5 cm.  Image reproduced with the kind permission of the artist and the François Ghebaly gallery.

Kathleen Ryan, Untitled (2017), enamelled ceramic, chromed steel. Image reproduced with the kind permission of the artist and the François Ghebaly gallery.

What work have you hung above your couch? And in your bathroom?

Above my couch I have a very large piece by Valerie Snobeck. It is a six-panel piece of transparent film with imprints of a large sheet on three of the panels and negative space on the other three.

What’s the least practical piece of art you own?

I am not hurt ! Kathleen Ryan’s parrot sculpture is very impractical when you have young children and dogs running around, but it has survived so far.

Gaia Fugazza, Plants like him - Cerulean Blue, 2020, Image copyright the artist, Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery London and Rome

Gaia Fugazza, Plants like him – cerulean blue (2020), © Gaia Fugazza, courtesy of Richard Saltoun Gallery London and Rome.

What work would you have liked to buy when you had the opportunity?

I prefer to buy from emerging and less established artists, which is why I am delighted to partner with She Curates for our artist residency. With that in mind, I wish I had purchased more works by Sara Anstis, or more works by the incredibly talented Gaia Fugazza. Both are female artists and their work depicts surreal and dreamlike images that I love.

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

Probably the most cliched answer of all – on a grand scale water lilies by Monet. I just love them.

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