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Top 200 Collectors

Black-and-white portrait of a middle-aged white woman and white man

Barbara Bluhm-Kaul and Don Kaul


Real estate; law (retired)

Contemporary art; Postwar art


Barbara Bluhm-Kaul and Don Kaul are two of Chicago’s foremost collectors. Don is a life trustee at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, while Barbara is a trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago and a member of the civic committee for the city’s art fair, Expo Chicago. In 2015, Barbara served as the  co-chair of MCA Chicago’s Benefit Art Auction, which had as the centerpiece the evening’s live auction a painting, titled Still-life With Wedding Portrait, by the acclaimed Chicago-based artist Kerry James Marshall that he made specifically for the event. “It really is amazing,” Barbara told Crain’s Chicago Business at the time of the work. It sold for $700,000. (Marshall’s current auction record, as of December 2019, is $21.1 million set at Sotheby’s New York in May 2018 when Sean “Diddy” Combs purchased it.)  

Among one of the couple’s most treasured works is a 1964 six-square-inch color pencil sketch by Roy Lichtenstein, titled Study for Crying Girl. (The work is a study for his well-known enamel work from the same year currently held in the collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum in Wisconsin.) In 2012, they lent the piece to the Art Institute of Chicago for a retrospective of the Pop master’s work, and the piece then traveled around Europe for two years before returning to a prime spot in their living room where it is installed on an easel. “Sometimes I turn away because she’s wiping a tear,” said Barbara said in a 2012 interview with Crain’s Chicago Business. “I feel she needs a little privacy.”

They have also gifted a number of works to the Art Institute of Chicago, including Shiraga Kazuo’s abstraction Golden Wings Brushing the Clouds Incarnated from Earthly Wide Star (1960) in 2013 and a 1996 photograph by Dawoud Bey in 2015. 

When not involved in the Chicago art world, the couple has also been involved in headline-making real estate deals. In September 2015, a condo in the city’s lakeside Streeterville neighborhood sold for $10.375 million. Ten days later, it was back on the market, but this time for $9.3 million. Why the $1 million discount? The new listing didn’t include the unit’s rooftop patio, only the property below (five bedrooms on a full floor). The Chicago Tribune reported that the person behind the mysterious switch-a-roo had been Barbara Bluhm-Kaul, who only bought the apartment to own the patio. Could she have wanted to rooftop to install a work from the couple’s collection? When next in Chicago, make sure to look up when you’re on Lake Shore Drive.