Paul Kittelson, Staples, 2001. Stainless steel, 15 x 80 x 18 in. Photo: Courtesy HALL Group

The Art of Collecting: Q&A with Craig Hall

“Craig Hall really loves art and artists, and he cares about getting to know them,” says Patricia Meadows, who has worked with Craig and his wife, Kathryn, for 25 years. The recipient of the ISC’s 2020 Patron Award, which was established in 1993 to recognize individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the advancement of contemporary sculpture, Hall is an entrepreneur, New York Times bestselling author, vintner, and philanthropist. Among his real-estate developments are HALL Park and HALL Arts, designed with his curators, Meadows and Virginia Shore, to showcase an expansive international art collection. He also developed the Texas Sculpture Garden and HALL Texas Sculpture Walk, which together constitute the largest private collection of Texas sculpture open to the public.

Craig Hall. Photo: Courtesy HALL Group

How did you start collecting art?
I had the good fortune of having a mother who was both an artist and an art teacher. She did some sculpture as well as two-dimensional works, so I was brought up on loving art and I gravitated to it at a young age. When I was younger, I did some artwork myself, but I realized pretty quickly that I was better off collecting other people’s things. Actually, I wish I’d stuck with it. I started collecting posters and inexpensive representations of art when I was a teenager.

Do you recall the first piece of “real” art that you acquired?
I don’t, but I do remember that 10 or 15 years later I would look back at things that I bought in my late teens or early 20s, and think, “I can’t believe that I bought that.” To me, when I have something that I’ve lived with for 20, 30, 40 years and I never tire of it, that’s great art.

Can you name some of those pieces?
I have a couple of Joel Shapiro pieces that I never grow tired of. Not Vital, his work is incredible—I’ve got two of his. I also have a unique piece by a lesser-known artist from Texas, John Brough Miller, in a vineyard that we have out in Napa. I have a long list of pieces that I absolutely love.

Lisa Ehrich, Falling, 2017. Porcelain, 22 x 6 x 6 ft. Photo: Courtesy HALL Group

You were collecting well before HALL Arts and HALL Park?
Yes, I installed artwork in our commercial real-estate properties not with the idea that it was a gimmick to accomplish a commercial goal but with the idea that art should be shared and because I love art. People responded to it, and I realized that it really was a good business thing to do, as well as something I just wanted to do. In the beginning, I didn’t do it for any other reason than to share art that I loved. Now, I see that it enhances our properties, so we have art in all of them.

Since you were already a collector it was a natural move to install work within your properties.
Right. For instance, we have a winery in Napa called HALL Wines, and you can go online and see a lot of the art. There’s a John Baldessari, a Joel Shapiro, a Jaume Plensa—we have some really great outdoor sculptures. You’ve got the vineyard behind you and the mountains behind you, so it’s nature and sculpture fitting together. It’s a great experience for the guests, and it all works in a harmonious manner.

What is the Texas Sculpture Garden?
A lot of people think of Texas art as “cowboy art.” I have a collection of modern Texas artists, and for that reason Patricia Meadows and I decided to make a tribute to what were at the time all living artists—that’s how the Texas Sculpture Garden came together.

Joe Barrington, The Headlines Screamed Bathhouse Disappears, 1999. Galvanized welded steel and found objects, 35 x 6 x 10 ft. Photo: Courtesy HALL Group

Most contemporary collectors don’t think to collect artists from their region. Is this part of HALL Park?
Correct. The area that we designated the Texas Sculpture Garden is, I’m guessing, four or five acres, and it has some indoor space in one building and an outdoor area with some 40 pieces in it. In the overall development, which is 162 acres, we’ve got maybe 200 pieces total, and we’re constantly adding to that.

How do you do that? Do you go to galleries or art fairs?
Patricia and Virginia, my curators, sometimes bring me stuff. I also look at a lot of things online, and I have artist friends and look at the latest pieces they’re doing. I have a really close friend in Australia, Andrew Rogers, and I collect a lot of his work. There’s also George Tobolowsky in Dallas. I always know what they and a number of other artists are doing.

Do artists recommend other artists?
Oh yes, artists are good about introducing me to other artists. I don’t remember whether I met George through James Surls or the other way around, but I think of them as friends that I know one through the other.

Mac Whitney, Belger Adjustment, 2005. Painted steel, 108 x 180 x 12 in. Photo: Courtesy HALL Group

Do you look for different qualities in work that might go in your home versus a property or a winery?
Each thing has to have a context, and the scale matters. The Baldessari at the Napa winery is a big camel with a needle—it revolves around the Biblical story [in Matthew]—and I couldn’t see it in a house: it’s too big. Similarly, the Jaume Plensa piece needs the background of the mountains and the vineyard. But we might have something smaller from each of those artists. I’ve been known to buy things and have them in storage for three, four, five years because I didn’t know where to put them, and then I eventually found a place for them.

Do you ever start with a place and then find the work, or do you usually acquire the work first and find a spot for it?
Some of both. If I like a piece, I’ ll buy it. My wife and I bought a huge, 16-foot-long, textural tapestry by Nick Cave. Then we realized that we didn’t have a place to put it. When we were building the Napa winery, we decided that we needed to build a wall big enough to display the piece in the right way. We literally designed parts of the building to house the art.

Do you work closely with your wife on collecting?
We definitely work on it together. She taught me the world of wine, and I taught her the world of art, and they are now shared passions.

Lawrence Argent, Bunny Foo Foo, 2014. Stainless steel and paint, 327 x 251 x 72 in. View of work as installed in HALL St. Helena Vineyard, Napa, California. Photo: Courtesy HALL Group

You also engage in philanthropy.
We have been known to donate art, we certainly loan pieces to museums, and we believe in doing everything we can to share art. I think that’s really important—art should not be in selfish locations where it can’t be seen by lots of people. Art brings a sense of soul to life, it brings a sense of texture to your world, it makes people think, it makes people smile, it gives you a human reaction. I used to have an office overlooking the Texas Sculpture Garden, and I would see families with kids on weekends and people posing for wedding or graduation photos. Now I’ve moved to a different location overlooking another sculpture garden we did, and I see the same thing. To me that says a lot about us as a society, that we appreciate art as part of important moments in our lives. It enhances the quality of our lives. I feel honored to be able to share it, and I get a lot of pleasure watching people engaging with it.

For a full list of ISC Patron Award recipients, click here.