For Los Angeles residents Tina Perry, president of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, and Ric Whitney, a talent-management and music-publishing entrepreneur, there was a clear goal in mind when they were looking for their first home together in 2014: one that would best highlight their treasured art collection, which today numbers a staggering 250 pieces.
Before they met in May 2010 at a Dallas airport — thanks to their flights back to LA being delayed for several hours — each had already started collecting some small pieces on their own. When they discovered months later they shared a passion for contemporary work, acquiring art together became a meaningful collaboration that has taken them to numerous galleries, artist studios, and on art-focused trips around the world, requiring many discussions and negotiations over where their pieces would live.
"We knew we definitely liked midcentury [architecture]; we also really loved ranch houses and wanted to have the wall space because we love art so much, and not have to deal with staircases, in order to kind of seamlessly move through the home," recalls Tina. "That was a big thing in the back of our minds. We were in the early part of collecting [then], but we knew how important it was to be able to show our collection."
Their search led them to a spacious one-story, four-bedroom ranch home in the Hollywood Hills, built in 1963, nestled between towering palm trees and offering priceless, unobstructed canyon views, but, more importantly, plenty of wall space. Here, from the entryway to every bedroom and bathroom — Patrick Martinez's Pee-Chee folders documenting police violence are particularly surprising to encounter in the guest bathroom — and even in their laundry room, art and conversation pieces abound. It's almost paralyzing, in a good way, that every canvas, photograph, and sculpture, down to the handmade steel roses by artist Aaron Sandnes scattered about their living room floor, draw you in.
Tina and Ric celebrate this: "We like to entertain because we want people to experience it, ask questions, and just figure out how to be supportive [of artists] on their own," says Tina. The couple has multiple pieces by Martinez and Sandnes, both LA-based artists, throughout their home, so it's exciting to see how they speak to each other, intersect, and create new narratives. Their growing collection represents a thoughtful mix of artists working in various media, whose pieces touch upon a broad range of themes, including reexamined histories, personal transformation, pop culture, social justice, consumerism, urban decay, and fragile beauty. Despite its large size, if you point out any piece in their home, the couple easily recalls the artist's name, where they first saw the work, and what inspired it without skipping a beat, while enthusiastically speaking in tandem.
"This work here is from Joe Ray from 1980," shares Ric, referring to a more than 8-feet-tall galaxy-inspired painting titled In Space directly to the left of their double front doors. "That's the oldest work that we have in our collection."
"He's an important painter that came out of CalArts," notes Tina, who also serves on the art institute's board.
"We were blown away by the complexity of it," Ric follows. "This was the centerpiece of the show [at the Diane Rosenstein Gallery]. The notion behind it being that in space, there's no race, and there's something about that, even as a conversation piece, that was obviously very important in the '80s and still is."
"It's the depth of the painting we love," she adds. "We can stand with it, and a lot of the people, when they visit, just find themselves going deeper and deeper into the level of detail and the notion of this constellation that he has created from a distance. But as you get on top of it, you start to see all the nuances and colors. It's a beautiful way to be, to enter the home every day, because we have such respect for artists and people who can create. Imagine the amount of time this took."
The majority of the artists in their collection they have met or know personally, which strengthened Tina and Ric's attraction to their works and allowed the couple to become keenly aware of what was involved in bringing each work into being: "It's very important to us to see the intentionality behind the work," says Tina. "Why they're making the piece is just as important as the piece talking to us."
Collecting contemporary work makes this possible, notes Ric: "Knowing the artist, but also just having work of this kind. Living in certain moments, there are certain aspects about life that we related to, and then as we see that reflected in an artist's work, that becomes interesting."
In their professional lives as well, the two have long been invested in the different stories and perspectives people have and factors that may bring individuals together and drive them apart, just as the pieces in their collection explore. Not one piece of artwork was purchased haphazardly, and the same could be said about most of the furnishings in their home as well.
"We like to entertain because we want people to experience it, ask questions, and just figure out how to be supportive [of artists] on their own. "—Tina Perry
As you step into their living room, in the center seating area they chose light-grey couches and a white shag rug that together create a neutral yet relaxing space, keeping the focus on the art on the surrounding walls and ceramics and sculptures on the tabletops. At each far wall, dark wood pieces also serve to frame the work above it. For instance, perfectly centered above a decoratively carved cherry-wood console table that they bought in LA is a quartet of Sandnes's remarkable 136.36 Seconds pieces (2015), with each approximately 18-by-18-inch square composed of hundreds of monochrome 9mm lead bullets.
"When we bought this piece, there was a lot going on in our country, as it still is now, having problems with police brutality and shootings of African American males," says Tina. "This was sort of a sign of hope for us that something that's been so deadly for certain parts of our race has been turned into something beautiful."
Along the opposite wall, in their formal dining room area above a barn table Tina purchased while in New York City, are a series of chromogenic prints of self-portraits by LA artist Genevieve Gaignard done in 2017. She shares, "The last three years we started to gravitate and fall more in love with…"
"Social justice or portraiture," Ric says, Gaignard's prints being an example of this move, as is the large painting by their fireplace, Etranger by Umar Rashid (Frowhawk Two Feathers). This piece revisits colonialist histories and emphasizes the dangerous tendencies that still exist today. "The stranger will come and destroy your traditions" is spray-painted across sword-wielding individuals of different races battling on horseback.
Even their TV stand is an an artful piece. "Before we moved in, I found an easel at Restoration Hardware that I thought it would be a great addition to our living room," says Ric. "We wanted something interesting that could house our television without having to utilize wall space to mount the TV. The easel's aesthetic connection to art obviously made the furniture piece appealing. As a centerpiece in our living room, it's certainly become a regular conversation starter with guests."
And a mix of liquor bottles, with their different heights and shapes in twin mirrored bar tables directly below the Gaignard portraits, pop nicely against the white walls as visually appealing still lifes.
Atop the barn table are sculptures by another LA artist, Brian Rochefort, that the couple uses as orchid planters. And the ivory and black ornately designed chairs on each side of the table and the stools below, all purchased in New York, are beautiful works themselves. The back handles of the dining chairs are carved ram heads with contrasting dark horns and the seat pads are embroidered dupioni silk. Tina found the African wood stools with braided bases at a flea market, and they topped them off with different-colored removable cushions. "We use these also as eating tables, when we invite people over," says Tina, "and we also play games on them. The great thing is the mobility vibe, because you can easily pick them up and move them around."
As you walk down the hallway to the three bedrooms and Ric's home office, several pieces demand visitors' attention, including Gaignard's mixed-media Mercy, Mercy Me (2019) of two mammie figurines on pedestals with a pensive boy holding a telephone, and a D'Angelo Lovell Williams self-portrait titled Only in America (2018) of the photographer holding a gun in his mouth. This could be heavy subject matter to confront every day, but for Tina and Ric, "It inspires us to work harder, because when you think about the amount of work it took to set that, and stage it, think about the colors, the thinking behind it, it's a lot of work. A lot of emotional work."
They've had many of the furnishings in the rooms a long time and reimagined them, including the guest room's matching wood bed and dresser that used to be in Ric's LA loft. To match their aesthetic, they updated with knobs from Anthropologie. And above the dresser is a large piece composed of jute sacks by Ghanaian installation artist Ibrahim Mahama, whose work appeared at the Venice Biennale.
In the other guest room, painted a soft green, they layered green furnishings on top of another, including an art deco cabinet with white flourishes. "We searched long and hard to find the hero," says Tina, referring to the cabinet. "We found it in a very obscure, small furniture store in the Valley. We learned the lesson together that with greens you can just keep putting different shades together, and it somehow seamlessly works together."
In their bedroom, Ric immediately points to the aluminum infinity rings by Fay Ray above the sliding doors: "When we were engaged we went to her studio and she said, 'I'd love you guys to have something.'"
"It's a nice symbol of our marriage and to always remind us of unity and longevity," says Tina. "We never move them."
On the facing wall is a large metal cabinet, which they assure visitors does not hold medieval weapons, that Tina purchased from New York's ABC Furniture Store. It used to be a TV stand in her living room when she lived alone by the beach. "When we moved here, we thought this was such an open home, we wanted to preserve that feeling, so we decided to put it in the bedroom and use it as a bureau." To the right of it are deconstructed old encyclopedias that artist Samuel Levi Jones found omitted certain people or events in history that he then assembled to create new works on canvas.
It's quite remarkable how Tina and Ric have managed to create a welcoming environment that displays valuable artwork without visitors feeling restricted by it, even with the difficult topics they confront. Items also don't feel so precious or untouchable as you wander from room to room. There's still warmth there. "It was very important to us that we be able to live with the work, that people were comfortable around the work. We do not buy work that if it breaks or somebody damages it, or that if something happened to it, we would be upset," emphasizes Tina. "And that's the same thing with every piece of furniture. It's very important to us that we don't walk around a museum."
But they won't deny that many hours go into placing and rearranging their collection and new acquisitions throughout the home, a ritual they look forward to. "Over some period of time, when we have a few pieces we want to hang, they kind of rotate around the house," shares Ric. "Typically the night before or a couple of nights before, we kind of just walk around the house with a cocktail glass in hand, and we debate where to put things."
"We debate pieces that we want to tuck together and then maybe conversation pieces we can have. We also talk about mood and feeling," Tina adds. "We ultimately always agree because we want us both to be happy. It's like all the work we buy and furniture — we both have to love it."
In their laid-back media room at the other end of the home, the mood and artwork definitely shift to an urban and pop culture feel, with such pieces as Space Invader tiles from French artist Invader, a Hello Kitty from the 2014 Hello Kitty Con at MOCA, which their good friend and curator Roger Gastman produced, as well as a set of orange lockers Ric had in his downtown loft (purchased from a friend's Curves gym that closed), and Patrick Martinez's neon "Then They Came for Me" sign, one of two neon works in their home. The other is one of the most talked-about pieces by guests, the "Black Owned" sign, which actually references the signs black business owners placed in their shops during the LA riots of 1992.
But, surprisingly, it is in their kitchen dining room, where arguably the most stunning pieces in the home are found, both from 2017: a large black-and-white portrait on Japanese silk paper from Brooklyn-based photographer John Edmonds's du-rag series, and Bridge (First 8 Steps), a large infinity light box by LA's Glenn Kaino. The portrait by Edmonds is simply captivating. "The reactions of so many people to the beauty of it and the shot, the angle … a lot of it is the size of it, some of it has to do with the framing," notes Tina, "also the type of the paper, it's so peaceful." She points out that an African American man wearing a du-rag in another context may not be as celebrated depending on the bystander, or the du-rag itself.
Kaino's Bridge is a combination of true art installation and optical illusion. The artist made a cast of 1968 Olympic gold medalist Tommie Smith's arm. While on the medal podium after winning the 200 meters, Smith and teammate John Carlos had famously raised their fists to protest racial inequality in the States during the Mexico City Summer Olympics and were stripped of their medals days later. "Kaino had a huge bride of hundreds of these arms that he showed at the High Museum in Atlanta, and then he dismantled and made a series of light boxes with them."
Ric explains, "He wanted to make something that people could live with, and that's what he did. He used the optical illusion of the mirrors to give the effect of the bridge without it being an actual bridge."
"At night it's really breathtaking because it's all dark," says Tina, "and you can just endlessly see yourself." Its placement in the kitchen adds to the wonder, but then, if you recall, the kind of work that hangs in their bathrooms is just as memorable. Still, why tuck such grand works in the kitchen?
"We talk a lot about hanging things while we're here eating or working … what we would like to look at," she shares. "We come home every day stressed about everything, and it's the energy of these people, that energy in the works that resonate with us every day. That's how we think about it. And no matter my worst days, this [motioning to the two works] was so much harder. … That's how we think about it."
And it begins to really make sense, to surround themselves with such inspiring works and messages in the place where they spend most of their time. "This is the moment that we're in now. What this man represents and Smith's arm are of a moment in the world we live in that is complicated. We feel like it's almost like a time capsule," says Tina. "What I hope is that I see you in 15 years, and you'll come back to visit for something, and you'll see this is a wildly different collection that will be able to tell you that the world changed."