Dennis & Debra Scholl



Collector, Dennis Scholl interviewed by Dean Sobel

Dean Dennis, until recently you and Debra had been busy assembling one of the top collections of recent photography in the country. Why the transition toward different media and why particularly sculpture?

Dennis Our decision to begin to collect sculpture and site specific works developed from two issues. The art world is cyclical and we began to perceive an upswing in young and interesting sculptural and installation work that was going on and we felt like, as we always do when we collect; that we wanted to try and get ahead of that a little bit and try and become involved in it as it was starting to occur. Secondly, after twelve years of only looking at photography, we wanted to re-energize our collecting and re-look at things in a different way. So, we know nothing about sculpture, we know nothing about installation work and it's a great way to start fresh as a collector.

Dean Many of your most recent acquisitions don't fall within the boundaries of traditional sculpture. Your Olafur Eliasson installation mostly involves air and light; Liam Gillick's work traditionally could be classified as an industrial design; Kori Newkirk's work might be close to what we call installation and Jim Lambie's work really falls into many, many different categories and media. Has it been intentional not to acquire what we call plop art, bronzes, wood, wood sculpture and as part of that question do you see these artists you are collecting as part of a kind of new approach to sculpture?

Dennis We are always artist driven in our collecting. I think that every time we look at a new medium, the artists tell us where to go as opposed to us building a collection in the direction we think it should go. One of the unobvious reasons that so many of these artists are not working in the traditional media such as bronze, wood and stone is because they are not at a point in their career where they can afford to do so. It is a very expensive process and so they are having to be much more creative with the actual medium that they are working in. Secondly, as you just described, one of the reasons we are so interested in this area is because the artists are developing new methods and new materials for the creation of art. It is a very similar parallel to the photography we collected. The works in our collection are certainly no one's idea of traditional photography. Similarly, this sculptural/installation work that we are beginning to collect is again not traditional, not what you would expect and certainly the young contemporary artists have a certain freedom of materials that you don't see otherwise.

Dean In both Miami and Aspen, you've chosen to work with artists to commission new work. As collectors, what principals are you following in choosing the artists first and then what drives the decision to choose a specific work? Is it aesthetic? Is it based on a site? Is it based on instincts about what's right or wrong for that particular location?

Dennis The most important moment for us is finding an artist whose work we find compelling, that hasn't changed from the photography to the sculpture. It's always about compelling work. However, this idea of commissioning an artist to do a site specific piece adds incredible complexity to the idea of obtaining a work of art for a collection. When we built a photography collection, we walked into the gallery, pointed at a piece on the wall and they took it off and wrapped it up and you brought it home and put it on your wall. The commissioning of work is nothing at all like that. The interfacing what the artist is, is very, very difficult. It's hard to know when to say yes and when to say no. In fact, when we did the first site specific installation, I found myself much, much too involved in the process to the point that the artist said to me at one point in time, “Do you want the fucking piece or not?” That was pretty much of an epiphany moment for me. I knew that my involvement had to be minimal, more like saying, come and visit us, look around and tell us what you want to do. It has gotten easier since that very first piece, but staying out of the artist's way is what I spend most of my time trying to do when we commission a new work.

Dean Were there things you learned in your first 25 years as collectors that you are applying to next phase of your collection, certain things about yourselves, certain things about your taste or eye, even?

Dennis I think that having built a couple of collections that have been well received, and that people have responded to, has embolden us and made us even more willing to do projects that on the surface may sound ridiculous, but in fact turn out to be incredibly enjoyable works and possibly important in the art world. Being on our third collection now, we care less and less what other people think. I believe that is a key component to the collection. It is much too easy to fall into the trap of buying what everybody else is buying. We spend a lot of our time trying to find new works before other collectors are interested in them. Of course, new works in particular can be very challenging. But, we know that if we respond to a new work, that our aesthetic is something that matters only to us, and as long as it works for us, the rest of the world can choose to enjoy it or not enjoy it.

Dean Lastly, you opened an exhibition space entitled “World Class Boxing”. The space opened during the last Art Basel Miami Beach. What are your plans for World Class Boxing?

Dennis World Class Boxing for us is a place to show very large or complex pieces that we can't show in our home. As we've gone into this installation work/new sculptural mode, we have found ourselves drawn to pieces that were simply too large to show anywhere expect a traditional museum setting. We view World Class Boxing as a way to give those pieces a venue that is outside traditional museum viewership. Sometimes the pieces aren't ready for traditional museum viewership or the museum is not ready for the pieces. Each show is a single work, so the viewer comes in to a fairly large space in excess of 3,500 square feet and is confronted with one piece. We think that's a way of having people look at, think about and react to art in a different way than the traditional experience. Our first show for World Class Boxing was a large scale piece by Olafur Eliasson, this will be followed by a sound piece by Janet Cardiff and a large installation of two tree houses by Simon Starling which includes five live finches. Beyond those shows, we are out there looking!


Light Ventilator Mobile
Olafur Eliasson,




click image to enlarge:

click image to enlarge:

Exterior Relay Platform
Liam Gillick, 168”x96” (plan shot)
Exterior Relay Platform
Liam Gillick, 168”x96” (perspective shot)



Inverted Retrograde Theme, USA (House for Songbird)
Simon Starling 133”x122”x140”
and tree trunks


Janet Cardiff
and George Bures Miller,
Dimensions Variable


Zobop Stairs
Jim Lambie,
Dimensions Variable


Break on Through

Jim Lambie




Kori Newkirk

in process


Untitled (Chateau Haut Brion #1)

Jason Hedges,



Untitled (Double Stil),

Jason Hedges



click image to enlarge:

I like it that you can't hear me pee because I've always been embarrassed by that - I would hold it all day in school because wouldn't want any other girl to hear me
Joseph Grigley
2 7/16”x264


How to Find Your Way When You are Lost At Sea

Jason Dodge
(detail shot)


Bas Jan Adler
Christine Lutz Roland 30”x27”x3”


In Search of the Miraculous Sea Chanty

Jason Dodge