The art of displaying art

Local art collectors add personality to their homes with visual art

Robyne Robinson's art collection decorates her Southwest Minneapolis condo. Photo by Jahna Peloquin

Visiting Robyne Robinson’s Southwest Minneapolis condo is like stepping into a gallery.

Every wall and tabletop displays an eclectic, thoughtfully arranged mix of artworks. A 6-by-6 Keith Haring print, an antique African tribal mask, an early Andy Warhol watercolor and a pair of limited-edition high-top sneakers decorated with artwork by Haring and Jean-Michael Basquiat are displayed alongside Robinson’s collection of Midwest Emmy awards, mementos from her 20 years in television news.

“Art adds so much to your space,” said Robinson, now the arts and culture director for Airport Foundation MSP. “If I go into someone’s home and they don’t have artwork on the wall, it leaves me questioning who they are.”

For many, a common barrier to buying art is its perceived expense. In fact, Robinson’s first art acquisition — a raw-edged black metal sheet splattered in colorful paint that hangs in her living room — was purchased for $50 at a coffee shop in Chicago 30 years ago.

“What I put on my walls says a lot about who I am, my history and what I’m attracted to,” she said. “I think people tend to be afraid of art because they don’t understand it, but art is your own interpretation. Art means what it means to you.”

For serious purchases, Robinson takes the time to plan and visualize where she would hang it. But, she added, “If it’s an impulse buy, I’m not thinking about where it will go.”

Other collectors, such as Dr. Herman Milligan, Jr., simply buy now and figure it out later.

Herman Milligan and Constance Osterbaan-Milligan's art collection melds their eclectic tastes. Photo by Jahna Peloquin
Herman Milligan and Constance Osterbaan-Milligan’s art collection melds their eclectic tastes. Photo by Jahna Peloquin

“I tend to buy, most importantly, because I like the piece, or I want to support young artists in their careers,” said Milligan, a managing partner with a consultant firm who serves on a variety of arts boards in the Twin Cities.

A blend of tribal African sculpture, paintings by contemporary Cuban artists and modern artworks by artists spanning the globe decorate the Southwest Minneapolis home he shares with his wife and fellow art enthusiast, Dr. Constance Osterbaan-Milligan.

When discussing where to display a new acquisition, Milligan said, “We ask ourselves, where would this fit relative to what else we have displayed in the house and in this room?”

For many collectors, the act of displaying art is an art form all its own. Tom Arneson, a longtime collector of Minnesota art, enjoys arranging his collection of ceramics and sculptures.

“There’s a lot of choice about where to put things and how to arrange them, what to put next to what,” Arneson said. “It adds a lot of visual interest to the space.”

Tom Arneson's condo. Jahna Peloquin
Tom Arneson’s condo. Jahna Peloquin

Arneson’s ninth-floor Loring Park condo is practically coated with paintings, hung salon-style from floor to ceiling. Pieces by 1930s-era Minnesota artists such as Clara Mairs and Clement Haupers comingle with contemporary works by local Ojibwe artists Jim Denomie and Star Wallowing Bull.

His buying strategy is simple.

“I really just try to find artists whose work I like, and follow their careers over time,” he said.

Throughout his 20s, Jason Howard bought wall art from big-box retailers. But then Howard realized that original artwork could be surprisingly affordable.

“You can pay $200–$300 at Ikea for a framed poster, while I’ve purchased a lot of my (original) art at the same price,” he said. “You can buy something that reflects you and your community — and is most interesting than a poster — for the same price.”

Howard, a consultant for a commercial printing and packaging manufacturer and a board member at Soo Visual Arts Center, has filled his Southwest Minneapolis 1950s bungalow with artworks that illustrate his love for vibrant color and tongue-in-cheek subject matter. His collection includes photograph that appears to glow from within and a pair of crocheted “knives” that are displayed on his dining room table.

A painting by local artist Terrence Payne from Jason Howard's collection. Photo by Jahna Peloquin
A painting by local artist Terrence Payne from Jason Howard’s collection. Photo by Jahna Peloquin

“They’re deadly weapons that go limp when you hold them,” he explained. “I like things that are ironic or that you have to look at a little bit to figure out. They’re conversation starters.”

For many collectors, the act of buying art is a balancing act between selecting pieces that will best fit the space and choosing pieces they love. Because of the bungalow structure of his house, there aren’t a lot of giant walls in Howard’s home. But there a lot of windows, and displaying larger pieces can be a challenge.

“I change things out a lot,” he said. “When I buy a new piece, I find a spot for it and trade it out for whatever was there. The house is constantly rotating. It’s fun to keep things fresh.”


More tips for displaying art

— Don’t rush it: Building a collection takes time. Start with what you have by building in the center of a wall and gradually fill the wall space as you collect additional pieces.

— Create a grouping: When displaying art on a large wall, hang artwork close together rather than scattering it across the space. Space pieces equally from each other and keep them centered.

— Let color be your guide: Pick up on colorful accents around the room by incorporating artwork featuring similar color palettes

— Hang at eye level: Artworks should be hung at approximately the eye level of the viewer, to better enjoy the artwork at a natural level.

— Mix frame styles: Make your art collection even more distinctive by framing pieces in eclectic styles.