BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
“Interior designers bring me in during or at the end of projects to supply great art. The designers I work with create amazing interiors, so helping them to finish their projects with art is exciting.”
—Robin Wylly McCown, art consultant, describing her work
Creative Director of The McCown Collection, formerly The Mumford Collection, Robin specializes in fine art procuring, framing, placement and overall artistic interior design. As her client for more than 20 years and across four houses, Loretta Cooney summarizes the results: “She brings a room alive with her art choices.”
A native of Alabama, Robin began her artistic career at Vogue magazine and started her art business soon after the birth of her first child. We sat down recently to discuss how she became one of Chicago’s “go-to art people” and get her tips on how to best bring your surroundings alive with art.
How should people think about the art in their homes?
Most of my clients understand that the placement of art is far more than just embellishing or ‘decorating’ a room—art can literally transform a room and bring it to life. Art changes the entire dynamic of a room and even the overall feel of a home. Art contributes greatly to the personality of your surroundings. I believe that art is something to be passed on through generations. Children will keep and cherish art that their parents have collected.
What type of art is most popular now?
Indian and Asian contemporary art seem to be getting a lot of attention. The Japanese photographer Tokihiro Sato is someone I love to incorporate into spaces. He uses great light and slow exposures and has been at the Art Institute several times. He has been known to get into wetsuits and take these amazing water photos. I like his spirit—when asked what he was planning for some of these shots he says he never knows how they will turn out but is just as excited to see the results. I myself am intrigued by Jean-Michel Basquiat, passionate about Robert Motherwell and Franz Kline, and adore Robert Serra, whose work I use quite a lot.
What can an art consultant accomplish for your home in terms of its feel and comfort level? Your 20-year clients Joan and Wayne Elliott talk about how you have made their house just more of a home through your “hard work, professionalism, and wonderful talents.”
An art consultant has a depth of knowledge that generally surpasses that of a client’s. A talented art consultant is able to recognize the distinct personality of each client and match that personality with art that expresses or complements it. By procuring art that speaks to and for the client, the art consultant enhances the livability and enjoyment of the client’s home.
When you have gotten to know your client, how do you begin?
I listen and I observe. The most important way to begin each project is an intensive conversation while walking through and observing the client’s home. This is the best way to learn as much I can about my client so that I can present the art that best speaks to their needs and desires.
As you walk around, how do you determine a plan for what works for each room?
I take a holistic approach to each project. For the purpose of harmony, all rooms in a home should co-exist happily.
What are people looking for in terms of art on their walls?
Every client (and every home) is different. What is similar among my client base is that people wish to make sound purchases that are good investments and reflective of great talent. Most of my clients are very astute but depend on me to help guide them in the right artistic direction so they don’t make costly mistakes.
What about abstract and representational art? Your clients Kay and Michael O’Halleran talk of the fun their family had working with you to “choose beautiful, timeless, and eclectic pieces of art.”
I have a wide range of clients with varying tastes. Some gravitate toward traditional. Others prefer contemporary. Some are focused only on abstract. Personally, I like to mix up different mediums and genres.
How do you know if enough is enough—how much art is too much art?
If the pieces in a room are conflicting with each other or not enhancing the environment—or if you just feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to look first—then chances are there is just too much art. I often suggest that my clients pare down their collections or allow me to completely re-position everything before going on a collection odyssey.
Is it good to rotate your collection?
This idea is terrific when a client has bazillions of dollars and just wishes for a change of scenery every now and again. This is not the case for most people. For my home, I love hitting it right the first time, continuing to enjoy the art and design aesthetic that works for me and for my family every day. I have clients whose collections are so vast that they do, indeed, rotate their art. This is a great idea for them—their collections are so extensive that they’d never be able to see all that they own without rotating their pieces.
What about getting works of art cleaned?
Conservation is a tricky subject. If a piece of art is falling apart, by all means, seek conservation. If it is a work on paper that was framed badly and matted with an old acid mat, by all means, have it reframed and re-matted properly with an acid-free mat. If the paper is yellowing, please have it cleaned by a conservator. But if it is simply old but looks like it is in great shape, then seek a conservator’s advice or just enjoy the art.
Should color play a significant role?
While it is my job to procure site-specific art for my clients, it is not about matching the existing décor. It is about recognizing my clients’ particular aesthetic.
How do photographs fit into your interiors?
Photographs are terrific! My own collection is varied, and photographs are, indeed, integral to the eclectic mix of art that I personally enjoy.
How can you make sure that you won’t tire of your art?
This might make me a little different than others in my field, but I insist that people live with a work for a while before making the decision to buy it. I encourage them to take a work home and try it for a couple of weeks.
You mentioned the idea of collecting art as an investment.
Collecting art as an investment is great, however, one must step back and take a holistic view of the investment strategy. For the sake of sheer investment, education and due diligence are required.
Have you always loved art?
I grew up steeped in art because of my beautiful artist mother, Gene. I often joined my mother going to artists’ studios, galleries, museums, and frame shops. Plus, my mother’s studio was in our home, so I often witnessed her creating art.
I believe you are an artist, too?
Yes, I draw, sculpt, and paint. I don’t think I could do my job well if I did not understand what it means to be an artist. I just so prefer using my artistic talent to find the best talent. I am far better at promoting other artists’ work than my own.
How did you get started?
I began at Vogue in New York and discovered a number of gifted artists whose work I so wanted to collect. I was very young and could not afford to buy their art, so I bartered by having successful shows where I sold their work.
What is the most fun part of your job?
I so enjoy meeting new clients and continuing to help clients I have worked with for more than 25 years. I am now working with many of my clients’ grown children! I just love walking into a space where there is need for finding the perfect art! I love creating a wonderful dynamic with the work that has been done by the architect and by the designer. I do a great deal of design work for longstanding clients, but I especially love making other designers’ work sing.
The best part of my job is bringing meaningful pieces to my clients’ worlds—honing in on my clients’ backgrounds, interests, and what they love most. I enjoy helping to educate my clients about the art I procure. Art procuring and placement is far more than just decorating—there is a true spiritual element to embrace. If I do my job correctly, that spiritual element will always exist and be appreciated by my clients for years to come.
Last question: what can the art on someone’s wall tell you about that person?
For more information, visit mccowncollection.com.