In 2006, San Francisco-native, Stanford grad, and niece of wine-king Robert Mondavi, Sabrina Buell, left her position as the director of Matthew Marks gallery at the center of the art market in New York to return to the West Coast. Since resettling in the Bay Area, she and her partner, entrepreneur Yves Béhar, have begun a family and created an incredible home, all while Buell has established a thriving art-consultation company in San Francisco. Who better, then, to host the opening of our new San Francisco boutique — an event benefiting The Wattis Institute at CCA, which, Buell says, “is the only major contemporary arts institution in San Francisco, and a place very dear to my heart.”
What is the biggest barrier for people who’d like to begin collecting art?
I think that the contemporary art world has become so globalized and has so many players that it can be intimidating to people who are just starting out and don’t know how or where to find a comfortable entry point. It really helps to have an experienced guide who can help navigate.
What are some of the questions you ask a new or prospective client to get a sense of what they are into?
I don’t like to ask clients what they are drawn to, so much as I like to actually look at art together and have a dialogue. That’s why places like The Wattis or SF MoMA are so important to our community, along with the galleries. They provide venues and opportunities for these dialogues to happen. When we speak it’s more a matter of sharing ideas rather than assessing taste. Figuring out why the thinking behind a certain work appeals or doesn’t to a client is what I’m after.
What is it about the West Coast in general, and Frisco specifically, that lured you back from NY?
I honestly think San Francisco is the greatest city in the US. The quality of life here is better than anywhere else in my opinion. It’s a combination of the great food, beautiful landscape, innovative spirit, and a community of people who are progressive and brilliant thinkers. In terms of the art scene, San Francisco has many of the greatest collections in this country. The collectors here are non-conformists who value ideas over trends and their collections are highly personal. Plus SF MoMA is a phenomenal institution that will be even more impressive when they reopen in 2016.
How do you go hunting for inspiration or research for your clients? Do you do a lot of traveling, bookstore diving, walking through museums?
I am constantly on the road at art fairs and openings around the world. I have a team of 6 people who work with me and at any given time one or more of us is off somewhere seeing new things. The travel is essential. It’s so important to get your eyes on the work in person and to go to the art world dinners and events where you can have conversations with curators, artists and collectors about what you’re seeing.