Actress and former auctioneer Viveca Paulin-Ferrell has become a major player on the California scene
Life and art closely align for Viveca Paulin-Ferrell. It’s no accident that John Baldessari’s 2009 suite of prints, A B C Art (Low Relief): A/Ant, Etc. (Keyboard), gets a place of honor in the living room of her Hollywood Hills home. With three young sons, what better way to sneak in a lesson about the alphabet (one letter per print, each with a companion image) than to have a really large and seductive version of it on the wall?
Near Baldessari’s “B” (for brain), there’s a small sculpture of Mark Twain, a copy of an 1884 bust by Karl Gerhardt. These mini replicas are given to winners of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, and the 2011 recipient was Paulin-Ferrell’s comedian husband, Will Ferrell. The Beaux Arts–inspired bust aside, their collection consists entirely of modern and contemporary works. Flanking the A B C Art suite are two sculptures by Friedrich Kunath; they evoke giant matchsticks.
Born in Sweden and raised in Boston, Paulin-Ferrell, 45, earned her B.A. in art history at Pomona College in 1991. She learned how to conduct auctions at the now defunct Butterfield & Butterfield and still picks up the gavel for Los Angeles Modern Auctions. “Being around the auction houses made the transition to collecting an easy one, particularly with prints,” Paulin-Ferrell says.
Currently, she also serves as a trustee at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and on the board of overseers at the Hammer Museum. Having studied and then stayed in California, she developed an interest in its artists and art history. She and Ferrell own two vintage Ed Ruscha screenprints, Made in California (1971) and Black Ants (1972), and a pair of classic Richard Diebenkorns, the lush woodcut Blue (1984) and the etching and aquatint High Green, Version I (1992).
Additionally, Paulin-Ferrell has made a point to collect artists that L.A. critic Jules Langsner featured in the iconic “Four Abstract Classicists” exhibition in 1959—paintings that gave rise to the term “hard-edge.” She has amassed several works by Frederick Hammersley and Karl Benjamin and one by John McLaughlin. But she’s still hunting for a high-quality Lorser Feitelson.
Pieces by more recently established artists in the couple’s collection include a large color photograph from Catherine Opie’s “Surfers” series (2003) and Robin Rhode’s School of Fish (2011), a grid of nine photos that captures his fusion of street art and droll performance. Says Paulin-Ferrell, “I am drawn to artists that think differently than I do.”
A version of this story originally appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 70 under the title “The 10.”