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The Really Cool Collection was started in earnest in 2018 with the objective of building a legacy collection that transcends eras, techniques, and subject matter. The collection, of historic and contemporary works, oscillates between four primary aesthetic focuses: figurative abstraction, meditative repetition, fresh materiality, and (the women of) Abstract Expressionism.

In the collection’s exploration of the realm of figurative abstraction, the work of Cecily Brown is an important inflection point. As one of the earliest acquisitions her visual language has informed the discovery and inclusion of works by Kyle Manning, Jo Messer, George Condo, and Katherine Bradford. Her practice, viewed in the context of Surrealists such as Salvador Dali, Joan Miró and Max Ernst, explores the psychological nature of abstracted figures and the way their bodies (or their vestiges) interact with environments, real or imagined. This exploration follows through to the contemporary works of Ivy Haldeman, Mira Dancy and Tunji Adeniyi-Jones who question the inner world, dream world or memories of their figures. Brown’s work, when viewed through the lens of Marc Chagall and Jean Dubuffet, who touch on Faux Naïf within the scope of Modernism, relates to artists such as Katherine Bernhardt, Shara Hughes, Yoshitomo Nara, and Purvis Young. As the master of abstracted figures, a small Picasso is the gem in the crown and has inspired the discovery of Danielle Orchard, whose painting is reminiscent of Picasso’s famed muse, Dora Maar.  

The Really Cool Collection also includes many objects that explore the meditative nature of art, specifically pieces by Asian artists or of Asian-decent. A ceramic sculptural head by Yoshitomo Nara serves as a departure point to explore serenity, religious deities both as subject matter and as a meditative and reverent approach to artistic practice. Yayoi Kusama and Julia Chiang - doyennes of different eras - draw the viewer in with their hypnotic practice. Kusama’s repetitive yet intuitive approach often hinges on her preferred motif: the polka dot. Her aesthetic can appear almost scientific or biological, as if she is merely addressing repetition and abstraction that already exists in nature. Chiang’s work is at once highly exacting and also clearly handmade; openly announcing the presence of the artist. Meticulous in her approach, her works are often calm yet spark curiosity. She too explores nature or the biological, in her practice, specifically as it merges with abstraction.

The collection also explores materiality: the hand of the artist and its manipulation of the very constituent materials of the work. This approach is exemplified by the highly-tactile practices of James Benjamin Franklin and Richard Tinkler with their pseudo-sculptural nature, Hans Hofmann with his densely layered paint and swathes of color, and Zhu Jinshi, with thick, luscious curls of paint that writhe off the canvas as they layer outward, reaching toward the viewer. This area of the collection extends through to the sculptural work of Louise Nevelson -- herself once the student of Hans Hofmann. Her monochromatic approach draws the eye to the textures and material juxtapositions at play in her practice.

As a legacy collection, the stewardship of under-represented and overlooked artists of the past has become a passion point. The 2016 exhibition at the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art, Women of Abstract Expressionism, highlighted a group of important women working in the mid-20th century, who were obscured because of their gender and shadowed by the powerful personalities of the Abstract Expressionist men. The collection consists of the renown Ninth Street women, Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler, who expanded the bounds of abstraction and palette with differing techniques – graphic gestures and delicate staining. While Pat Passlof and Lynn Drexler, students of Hofmann and de Kooning, explored biomorphic forms and landscapes. Passlof’s work in particular draws deeply from the palette and waterscapes of Monet.    

The newly acquired artworks of Robert Nava, Doron Langberg, Caroline Walker, and Anima Correa converge in a captivating exploration of human experiences, emotive expressions, and the intricate interplay between identity and society. Drawing from distinct artistic styles and techniques, these four young visionary artists demonstrate profound connectivity in their portrayal of the human condition. Robert Nava's dynamic and whimsical depictions of mythical figures and creatures resonate with Correa's surreal and dreamlike imagery, delving into the collective unconscious's depths. Langberg's intimate and tender portrayals of human relationships use color and light to imbue his figurative works with a masterful, tender vulnerability. Walker's poignant portrayals of everyday life hint at interconnected narratives of contemplative reflections on solitude and resilience. Together, their works form an arresting narrative that invites viewers to ponder the shared threads of human existence and the multifaceted nature of human connectivity.

As the collection grows, the focus will continue to span both emerging and established artists. To date, there has been a preference towards acquiring exceptional smaller scale works so each work can be lived with, but this is not an exclusive rule and will expand as the right works become available.  

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the team

Nicole Bray, Founder of Mercer Contemporary, is a respected and trusted art professional in New York. Mercer Contemporary is an Art Advisory, Appraisal, and Legacy Planning firm based in Manhattan and the Hamptons. She advises multiple clients in the U.S. and Europe on acquiring, selling, managing, and displaying their collections. She specializes in 19th, 20th, and 21st Century Fine Art, and has extensive experience in Prints and Multiples, Photographs, 20th Century Furniture, and Southeast Asian and Himalayan art.

Nicole was awarded the Emerging Curator Fellowship by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in 2014. In 2016, she was awarded a Curatorial Residency in Mexico by the Curatorial Program for Research. Nicole worked for Phillips Auction House, and a distinguished private collector before starting her business.

Nicole completed her Masters of Arts (Hons) in Art History at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, New York, and her undergraduate degree is in Modern History and Political Science. She has also gained various certificates through Christie’s Education, New York University, and the Appraisers Association of America.

Nicole started working with Really Cool Art in 2018 at the start of the art program and has successfully advised and sourced art for the collection since then.

Nicole is USPAP certified and an Accredited Appraiser with the American Appraisal Association. She lives in New York with her husband and two children.

Nicole Bray

Curator of Really Cool Art & Founder of Mercer Comtemporary Art

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