Stefan T. Edlis and Gael Neeson
Aspen, Colorado; Chicago
Plastics manufacturing (retired)
A survivor of the Holocaust, Stefan T. Edlis—who died recently, in October 2019—grew up in Vienna and escaped to the United States in 1941, at the young age of 15. He founded Apollo Plastics Corporation in Chicago in 1965 and first started collecting art in the late 1970s, initially buying only artworks made of plastic and then switching to postwar and Pop art for which materials could vary. The collection opened its doors over the years to pieces by Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Cy Twombly, and Andy Warhol, as well as works by more contemporary artists like Maurizio Cattelan, Katharina Frisch, and Ugo Rondinone.
And in 2015, Edlis and his wife, Gael Neeson, donated 42 works of Pop and contemporary art, together valued at the robust sum of $500 million, to the Art Institute of Chicago. At the time of the gift, the Art Institute’s director, James Rondeau, told the Chicago Tribune that Edlis and Neeson “did not buy based upon opportunity. They did not buy based upon what was offered to them. They did not buy dictated by the fashions of the marketplace. They waited until they had the opportunity to acquire the most iconic, most significant [work[ in terms of provenance, in terms of condition, in terms of its place in an artist’s career.”
Taking a bit of a star turn on the silver screen, Edlis was one of the breakout figures of The Price of Everything, the documentary about the art market that came out in 2018 and proved more than a little eye-opening (for some—especially those outside the confines of the art world). In fact, it was Edlis paraphrasing Oscar Wilde that gave filmmaker Nathaniel Kahn his title: “There are a lot of people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”