Inside Jerome & Ellen Stern’s Art Barn
By Christine Schwartz Hartley
Sometime in the late 1990s, shortly after acquiring Empty Dream, a monumental photo work by Japanese artist Mariko Mori, Jerome Stern realised that he had run out of space. The homes he shared with his wife, Ellen – a residence on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and a house in Westhampton, New York – were filled to the brim with art and objects. A quintessential New Yorker with a career in venture capitalism and finance, Stern had begun collecting in the mid-1960s and never stopped. He bought widely, without regard for period, category or geography, and acquired such diverse works as paintings by Pablo Picasso and Marlene Dumas, sculptures by Aristide Maillol and David Smith, and lighting by Tiffany.
The scope of Stern’s collecting was truly extraordinary – as dealer Jeffrey Deitch recalled, he was “one of the rare connoisseur-collectors who could identify aesthetic quality from ancient art to the studios of young artists” – and it became clear that exceptional measures were in order. And so was born the Art Barn, a 7,500-square-foot private gallery Jerome and Ellen Stern commissioned from sculptor Serge Spitzer, a friend whose work they collected. In this industrial-style facility on their verdant Westhampton estate, the Sterns displayed their holdings in contemporary sculpture and photography, bringing together two mediums that are rarely shown in tandem. With this brilliant move, the collectors allowed works by celebrated artists such as Joseph Beuys, Yayoi Kusama, Bernd and Hilla Becher and Yinka Shonibare to enter into endless conversations with pieces by emerging artists such as Ahmed Mater, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Asta Gröting, thus making the Art Barn the embodiment of their fearlessness and passion in collecting.
After Jerome Stern’s passing earlier this year, his family decided to part with more than 250 works, which Sotheby’s New York is bringing to the market in nine separate auctions, under the title To Live with Art: Property from the Jerome & Ellen Stern Collection. From the first offerings of Impressionist & Modern Art on 14 November to a dedicated single-owner sale next March, each auction will celebrate the couple’s boundless appetite for art and ensure that it lives on.
“Stern was one of the rare collectors who could identify aesthetic quality from ancient art to the studios of young artists.”