Alvin Hall, a New York investment analyst who zoomed to stardom over in London as host of a BBC TV series on smart investing, is also an avid art collector. Hall caught the art bug way back, before he hit it big as Wall Street's only African American owner of a financial-training firm, saving money you'd normally spend on cabs and nights out for art purchases. The 44-year-old Hall was described by Evening Standard reporter Jody Tressider as possessed of "A Murphyesque pencil moustache, film-star handsomeness, an infectiously fruity, high-pitched giggle and an anarchic sense of humor." ArtNet correspondent Mary Barone visited Hall at his SoHo loft and turned in the following interview.
Alvin Hall: I just hired someone to do an inventory -- there are so many pieces and I realized the other day that some were still at friends' houses, two pieces are at Sotheby's, two pieces are somewhere traveling.
Mary Barone: Sotheby's, meaning that you recently acquired at sale?
AH: No, uh - - two pieces -- I was going to sell them and then I changed my mind and forgot to have them re-delivered, so they've been up there for about two years.
MB: What pieces were they -- what were you considering selling?
AH: A piece by Nancy Dwyer and a piece by Lydia Dona and I decided not to sell them.
MB: So you decided to keep them.
AH: Well I may keep them or I may give them away. I don't know yet. My old apartment had higher ceilings and had, volumetrically, more space and so I could hang big work like that. In this apartment I can't. I think the Lydia Dona is 7 x 8 ft., or something like that, and they're hard to hang in an apartment like this.
MB: Well, it's a beautiful place.
AH: Thank you.
MB: And in this space [the living room], what is your most recent acquisition?
AH: The most recent acquisition is probably the Carrie Mae Weems. They were part of an installation she was commissioned to do for the Getty. They gave her an archive of daguerreotypes and then she was asked to interact and comment on them with her art. And so these are images that I particularly love. In this one on the right you have the daguerreotype of the woman and then the type sandblasted on glass saying some say you are the spitting image of evil, and then you have this image done by a more contemporary photographer with the sheet music of the Billie Holiday song, God Bless the Child ... yes the strong want more while the weak ones fade ... empty pockets don't ever make the grade ... mama may have ... papa may have ... but God bless the child that's got his own... I particularly like this song. I bought this one on the left when I saw it at the very first show of the work in New York at P.P.O.W. I knew it was right but I thought that alone it was too sentimental. Then when I paired them together, a different dynamic takes place. When I was having the house re-installed, Bruce Dow thought they would work well together, and so here they are.
MB: They look great ... and who is Bruce Dow?
AH: He's the guy who installs the artwork. He comes about every four months and re-hangs the entire place. I adore him. We work so well together.
MB: That's great, your own personal curator.
AH: Let's see, actually the Miguel Calderon was the first piece I bought. It's called Evolucion del Hombre and it's a series of pictures showing the artist posing, first as a kind of apeman and he gradually evolves to what you could call a modern man. I just think this is hot and sexy both, and so witty, with that sort of L.A. homeboy look for the more highly evolved figure at the end. I like the Afro wig and the glasses recalling the blaxploitation films of the '60s and '70s, the mock violence and I like the ballet quality and the poetry of his movement in it. And I find it interesting because it seems to make men in particular uncomfortable.
MB: Oh really, why's that?
AH: Because men notice the pendulous testicles in the first picture and they always say that it would be great if he got rid of that one, that's what almost every man says ... it's very funny.
MB: Really, that is funny because I sort of like the pendulous testicles; it gives it that primal edge.
AH: As a joke, to amuse myself, I put out this multiple by Tony Feher -- it's a Mayonnaise jar with marbles in it -- and I have it sitting right there by the Calderon and you can watch people's eyes go from the testicles to the Tony Feher work -- it's my own little joke -- and then they don't say anything.
MB: What a great idea.
AH: And I just got another Tony Feher multiple which was produced by Tom Jones. I saw it down at the Miami Art Fair and I just thought it was really witty. So they're the newest things.
MB: And is this Lorna Simpson?
AH: That's Lorna Simpson's 7 Mouths. Actually that is one of three works that have never left the house. When I bought this particular apartment, I walked in and it was full of furniture belonging to the lady who lived here before, and I said the Lorna Simpson Mouths will go there ... and I'll show you the other two works ... but I literally bought the apartment, I hate to say it, with that work in mind. I have always liked that work -- I just think it's so elegant.
MB: It's beautiful, what's the date of that work?
AH: '92 or '93. And everybody comes in and thinks it's different mouths and then they realize it's the same one. But I just think it's really beautiful. It brings to my mind Donald Judd in a funny way. You know those Donald Judd boxes?
MB: That's true. And how about this sculpture, this cast of a man, wearing jeans, only from the waist down.
AH: Oh, that's me. That was a gift when I was in college ... and it's sort of me in my thinner state. I think it's called The Better Half of a Man.
MB: Who made it?
AH: I have no idea, it was a gift.
MB: And is this work by Christian Boltanski?
AH: This one, it's Jack Pierson, just the word "why, " spelled out in old-fashioned sign letters. I saw the piece at Feature in SoHo, loved it, but didn't buy it at first. I like especially the little house in the center made by the bottom of the W and the top of the H, and the little upside-down arrow made by the H and the Y. Of all of the Pierson word pieces, this one had a sculptural integrity to it that I haven't seen in any of the others.
MB: And I sort of like it better than the neon pieces. It makes me think of loss. Would light bulbs have been screwed in on the left?
AH: Somewhere there were light bulbs, I'm not sure if they were on the left or on the inside. And this is a group of photographs by Annette Messager. It's another work that has never left the house.
MB: What's the title?
AH: It's part of a series called My Wishes or My Vows. And these little fists are a piece by Ernesto Neto called Punhos Cerrados. Here, you can hold them.
MB: Oh, they're heavy. Are they lead?
MB: And they're his hands.
AH: Yes, and they are supposed to hang from the ceiling by this ribbon, and as you can see, I tried it once and...
MB: And his knuckle got broken.
AH: The ribbon is supposed to be strong enough but I think it's not strong enough.
MB: And how about this, this is pretty beautiful.
AH: This is Bruce Dow. It's called Nubian Love God. I put it up in the hall to the bedroom. I have private jokes in the house just for me. Bruce takes molds of these sort of gods and goddesses or princes and princesses, whatever they are, that you can find at yard sales or at African craft fairs, and he slices them up on a buzz saw and glazes each one individually and recombines them. He actually did this one specifically for me. Peter Norton bought one that I had always wanted, and I complained to Bruce. I said you have to do me one that is better than Peter Norton's, so he did this one for me.
MB: It's a beautiful piece.
AH: I have this Kay Rosen which, like the Pierson work, I also passed on when I first saw it. Then five years later, I couldn't get it out of my mind, those rows of "t"s. It stands for little statuette. And when you look at it, it's like a graveyard or cemetery and to me it's all about my religious background, the fact that I was raised in a very conservative religious environment. It's also about my fascination with graves and burials, because when I go on vacation, especially in South American countries, I like to walk the streets and find out where the local mortuaries are and go and look at how the bodies are laid out. It just fascinates me. It's sort of a morbid fascination. Everybody I tell that to says, what's wrong with you! I think rituals of displaying bodies are interesting.
MB: Of course it is. I love to look at early Greek art and think of how they buried their dead with all of those wonderful objects and the fanfare that went along with it. Some of us don't make enough of death, we sort of hurry and bury people and that's it. And all that ritual to celebrate it also fascinates me.
AH: And nobody says anyone's "dead" now, they say "they've passed" -- passed where to? -- as though there's a continuum.
MB: That's right, although I'd like to be buried with some nice things around me, you know, just in case.
AH: Yeah, well, I'll take the Messager.
MARY BARONE is an art dealer soon to relocate from New York to London.