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Modern Luxury interviews Select Art's Paul Adelson

Modern Luxury Dallas

He's all Art

At work in his Design District studio or at home in a Swiss Avenue condo,
life is one big picture for Paul Adelson

by Rebecca Sherman | photography by Justin Clemons

At work, art gallery owner Paul Adelson managed to survive a battered economy and have his best year ever in 2010. At home, he lives his work through a careful collection of 20th century modern art. And better than most, he knows that, while it is enticing to think that art is interchangeable between public and private worlds, it frequently is not.

"There's a difference between what art goes in your home and what art goes in a public space, where hundreds of thousands of people, all with difference tastes, will see it," says Adelson, 62, owner of Select Art and a consultant on public art collections for 25 years. "The art should compliment, but not match the architecture. If you have a contemporary building, don't put traditional art in it."

While some may not agree with Adelson's counsel, he's obviously doing something right. "In the last two years, I've placed more outdoor sculpture than in the past 25 years combined," he says. "I usually try to keep 12 to 14 large pieces in inventory at a time, and I'm having trouble keeping up with demand." Adelson has spent almost three decades builidng relationships with a loyal, big name following that includes American Airlines, AT&T, Baylor Healthcare, Chase Bank, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Kraft General Foods, Trammel Crow and Hyatt Corporation, all who've commissioned works from his Design District gallery.

Adelson also attributes a growing awareness of public art to the opening of the Nasher Sculpture Center, the new Arts District and to a group of informed local architects who encourage their clients to enhanced their courtyards and lobbies with contemporary works of art. In a twist of fate, the sour economy has also been a boon. "Commercial leasings have gotten a lot more competitive, so companies are looking to upgrade their lobbies with nice art," says Adelson, whose stable of two dozen working artist include prominent regional sculptors such as Brad Oldham, George Tobolowsky, Laura Abrams and Juan Luis Gonzales.

Paul Adelson

Adelson's passion for art emerged in 1986, after he relocated from Duluth, Minnesota, to Dallas to rep lines for a clothing manufacturer. He bought two limited-edition etchings for his apartment, one by Joan Miro' and another by Salvador Dali. At the time he was only earning $20,000 a year, and he spent $6,000 on the art. Says Adelson: "I made all the mistakes you shouldn't make. I bought them from strangers over the telephone and even financed them. But once I have them framed and up on the wall, it changed my life. I could have a bad day at work and come home and look at that art and get lit up inside." Adelson contemplated how others might benefit from art, too, and soon he had quit his job to work for himself. He started "knocking on doors, meeting artists and showing their work to companies. I never looked back."

"I made all the mistakes you shouldn't make. I bought them from strangers over the telephone and even financed them.
But once I have them framed and up on the wall, it changed my life."

Paul Adelson"[Back then,] what most people wanted to buy was English riding and hunting scenes. I could hardly stomach that," he says. Increasingly during the years as local  corporate architecture became more contemporary, so did art. Now, 85 percent of the art he places in public facilities is abstract, he says. Although a stampede of bronze cattle have their place, Adelson says he liked to see more large contemporary sculpture in downtown. "Dallas is the best city to be in right now. We're a contemporary city that's progressive. Large contemporary public sculpture should be part of our image. I'm doing my part to contribute to that." Much of Adelson's job is to teach his corporate clients how to pick art. "I listen to them but I feel I owe it to them to be authentic and educate them. They need to know what art others in their industry across the country are putting in their public places. How well does what they are choosing go with the design of the space? What I usually tell people is, you wouldn't wear a Brooks Brothers shirt with an Armani suit would you?"  

At home, though, it's all Armani at the sleek, galvanized steel clad condo that Adelson bought several months ago with his wife Sherry, 59. The couple bought the three-story home near Swiss Avenue, knowing their collection of modern mid-20th century art would look good in it.

Paul AdelsonSays Adelson: "It has lots of natural light and lots of open walls and ceilings that are perfect for displaying art. We painted the walls the brightest white we could find so that they would have a gallery effect."

Their personal art collection is an assortment of signed and limited editions by such blue chip artists as Andy Warhol, Jim Dine, Tom Wesselmann, Keith Haring, Alexander Calder, Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Motherwell. Though the couple's tastes are similar, Adelson has a penchant for edgier pieces. "I've been around art for so long that a lot of the art doesn't really show up as edgy to me." he says. "That happens in the corporate world. After you've been around for awhile, your tastes evolve." Classic mid-century furniture pieces fill the condo, such as Le Corbusier chaises, Bertoia chairs, and a limited-edition rug produced by Pablo Picasso's estate, based on one of the artist's 1917 paintings. "Most of our furniture is functional art," Adelson says.

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