Unique Features' Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne's Over-the-Top Art Collections
This story first appeared in the Nov. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The first thing one notices when walking into the New York offices of Unique Features – the production company of New Line Cinema co-founders Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne – is that there isn’t a blank wall in the house. A sweep of gutsy early Barbara Kruger collages lead to the reception area, where shiny-covered auction catalogues and artist monographs sit stacked under an Andreas Gursky diptych and a knock-out Gary Simmons painting of the Hollywood sign burning. “The art was all Michael’s idea,” Shaye is quick to admit. Lynne shrugs: “We’re in a visual medium.”
While the two men have collaborated professionally for more than three decades now – first at New Line and now with Unique Features – their private art collections are distinctly their own. A regular on ArtNews’ Top 200 Collectors list, Lynne is legendary for his ability to spot emerging talent. The former entertainment attorney got his start in the Soho scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the art market explosion left then-unknown artists like Julian Schnabel, Francisco Clemente, Eric Fishl, David Salle and Jean Michel Basquiat in dire need of a lawyer. “This was the first generation in more than a century – and maybe ever – who were really getting very rich in the art world, while still very young,” Lynne explains. He gladly traded his legal services for artwork. As time went by, he established a formidable collection, snapping up early works from Cindy Sherman, Damien Hirst and Elizabeth Peyton, among many, many others. While these wise buys have brought him renown as both a collector and an investor, Lynne warns against engaging in bald speculation. “When you invest in an emerging artist, there’s no assurance there will be value - meaning financial value – in that artist a decade or two later. And yet, sometimes there’s enormous financial value. I try not to make that an element in the process at all.” He pauses, then adds: “There’s something I always tell young collectors, something I really and truly believe: you can collect with your eyes, you can collect with your mind, you can collect with your heart, but you must not collect with your ears. Because if you listen to what people are saying, and who’s hot, and who’s not? That is the worst way to collect. Particularly if you are collecting young artists who have not yet met the test of time, and may not.”
Confirms Shaye: “I think you do have to go with your emotions. That and a clear understanding of how much you want to spend.” He flashes a sheepish grin, “though I don’t think I’ve ever paid exactly what I wanted to pay for a piece.”
Shaye is the kind of collector who knows in advance which work he wants and where he wants it to hang (“I don’t have a single work that isn’t on a wall somewhere.”) He has built his collection on the auction floor, using a curatorial approach to bring together a coherent selection of works; for example, the art in his Los Angeles home is all oriented around the female form, as explored by the very diverse likes of Pablo Picasso, Rene Magritte, Gerhard Richter and photographer David LaChapelle, to name a few. (In New York, his collection is even more eclectic, ranging “from a statuary from Cameroon, to a mandala, to Diane Arbus.”) Shaye confesses that he was captivated by Arbus, Magritte and Francis Bacon from a very young age. “I tore their pictures out of magazines and mounted them on my bulletin board.” As New Line developed, Shaye made headlines with some high profile purchases (such as a splashy eight-figure sum for a Matisse in 1999.) “It’s thrilling either to be at an auction or on the phone and to be bidding. There’s something that’s both scary and fun about it. And I have no knowledge about what the right way to do these things is, though I do know that you end up paying probably a little bit more than you intended to when you started off. But you find art that you didn’t know really existed, which leads me to what is really the most exciting thing about the market and the contemporary art economy: there’s always good art around.” He pauses, letting the weight of these words sink in. “Some auction periods are better than others, some auctions have better stuff than others, but you’re not going to miss out on getting something good – that is, if you can afford it.”
Shaye credits his partner with prodding him to take his collecting more seriously. “Michael is the real collector,” he is quick to proclaim. “My definition of a collector is somebody who has more than 10% of the art that they own in storage. I currently have less than 1% of the art I own in storage, which makes me more of a ‘decorator.’ I can take good art very far and enjoy it as being part of my life, but I’m not really driven in amassing more as a collector.”
Lynne laughs good-naturedly, acknowledging the compulsive element to his acquisitions. “Collectors collect. If it’s not contemporary art, it could be salt and pepper shakers. Warhol collected cookie jars.” Shaye interjects: “Didn’t you collect stamps?” Lynne nods: “And coins. As I said, if you’re a collector, one way or another, you’re going to collect.”