This Modest New York Apartment Holds One of the Best Art Collections in Town

Over the course of 40 years, Alvin Hall has amassed a trove of blue-chip artists merely by trusting his eye.

By Sandra E. Garcia, For Art News

Observers of the art market have referred to the rising demand for work by contemporary African-American artists in recent years as, among other things, a “furor” or “surging,” and the work itself as “a hot commodity.” Ten years ago, it was relatively rare to see a Black artist’s work set a record at auction. Now, such sales are routine, boosted by numerous high-profile lots, perhaps most famously Kerry James Marshall’s 1997 painting “Past Times” (purchased by the rapper and music producer Sean Combs for $21.1 million at a Sotheby’s sale in 2018) and, more recently, Jean Michel-Basquiat’s “In This Case” (1983), which sold at Christie’s in May for $93.1 million — an astronomical price, but still only the second-highest ever paid for a Basquiat.

Given the hype surrounding such figures, it’s surprising that one of the more interesting collections of contemporary African-American art is housed inside a fairly humble Manhattan two-bedroom apartment on Madison Avenue. It belongs to Alvin Hall, 68, a broadcaster, financial educator and author, who, through good timing, taste and a bit of luck, began collecting in the 1980s and has been able to buy masterpieces by artists whose work is now worth much more. At a time when art — and Black art in particular — has been inflated and commodified to the point of a quasi-bank transaction, Hall is a model of best practices for nonbillionaires hoping to amass a world-class collection. His apartment also illustrates some of the realities of how to live with art when you only have a minimal amount of space: He owns 377 works, 342 of which are in storage.

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