Milton and Sheila Fine Collection opens at Carnegie Museum of Art
ArtExhibit runs through March 17

Milton and Sheila Fine Collection opens at Carnegie Museum of Art

More than 100 works of art, including pieces by contemporary artists like Jeff Koons, Robert Mapplethorpe and Kiki Smith, are part of the exhibit.

Installation of The Milton and Sheila Fine Collection, 2023 (Photo by Chris Uhren, courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art)
Installation of The Milton and Sheila Fine Collection, 2023 (Photo by Chris Uhren, courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art)

Over his decades of collecting fine art with his wife, Sheila Reicher Fine, Jewish hotel magnate, philanthropist and arts advocate Milton Fine didn’t always intend that it would one day be in the Carnegie Museum of Art. Rather, that intention developed over time through his involvement with the museum.

Milton Fine, who died in 2019, was a trustee of the Carnegie Museum, chair of the board and an advocate for the revitalization of the Carnegie International in the 1980s and the creation of the Andy Warhol Museum in 1994.

On Nov. 18, the collection of more than 100 works of art — which includes pieces by contemporary artists like Jeff Koons, Robert Mapplethorpe and Kiki Smith — became available to the public at the museum for the first time in the form of the Milton and Sheila Fine Collection.

The exhibit will run through March 17, 2024.

The Fines were active members of the Jewish community in Pittsburgh and knew each other through mutual friends and family before their marriage in 1989. “Our whole courtship was about art and purchasing art,” said Reicher Fine, who grew up in Point Breeze.

Though Reicher Fine was not an art collector before meeting Fine, she was able to develop her own taste through their travels to the Venice Biennale, studio visits in New York or trips to the galleries in Paris that her husband loved. The couple built most of their collection together, with equal input from both of them.

“I wasn’t sure I could fit into Milt’s life, but he was such a wonderful partner. He never put pressure on me. I felt very comfortable very quickly. At these exhibitions we went to, I would say to Milt, ‘Let’s go where there aren’t a lot of people, I really want to see the art,’” Reicher Fine recalled.

Reicher Fine shared that her husband was red-green colorblind, but that didn’t stop him from developing his own eye. His unique perception of color and composition added to his rigor as a collector.

“We never bought anything that one of us disliked,” Reicher Fine said. “We learned that our taste was similar. He’d ask me first ‘What did you like?’ We focused on the same things. We wanted to share the beauty of what we had.”

The Fines often gravitated toward emerging artists — when they bought Koons’ sculpture “String of Puppies,” he was still in an early stage of his career. That piece became a fixture of their Fox Chapel home, in the entryway.

The art in their home was a staple of their family life.

“I wondered what grandchildren look at when they saw these puppies, so I knelt down to see it at a child’s level,” Reicher Fine said. “From that viewpoint, you can really see how the mouth affects the figure in a work of art.”

Though the Fines had a serious appreciation for contemporary art, they maintained a sense of playfulness and saw the artwork they owned as something to make their home more welcoming for the people they entertained.

They became eager to eventually share it with a wider audience.

“We loved having the art in our family home, but it’s so much more spectacular in the museum,” Reicher Fine said. “And things shared are just so much more fun when they’re shared with everyone.”

The Fines had close relationships with the curators and directors of the museum, and Eric Crosby, Henry J. Heinz II director of the Carnegie Museum, helmed the Milton and Sheila Fine Collection alongside Tiffany Sims, Margaret Powell curatorial fellow and Cynthia Stucki, curatorial assistant for contemporary art and photography.

“Collectors ask themselves ‘Will this painting stand the test of time?’ It’s risky,” Crosby said. “When the Fines began collecting in the 1980s, they were on the cutting edge — photography, or paintings and sculptures that might seem unfamiliar to museumgoers, these challenging forms of abstraction and conceptual art. It’s only with the benefit of hindsight that we can see that they worked with some of the most important artists today.”

Crosby’s curatorial vision for The Fine Collection greets museumgoers with a neon bolt of lightning in the form of Mark Handforth’s “Ziggy Stardust” (2004), which casts a red, purple and orange glow across the darker lounge space between the Fine Collection and the Museum’s Scaife Galleries.

“We wanted to really activate the lounge and give people this electric feeling: ‘This is the Milton and Sheila Fine Collection,’” Crosby said. Once inside, visitors can enjoy the eclectic mixture of mediums that the Fines gravitated toward, including Robert Mapplethorpe’s portrait of Keith Haring and Gillian Wearing’s photographic self-portrait as Andy Warhol.

A unique feature of the exhibition is the “Collector’s Salon” room, which Crosby designed to allow viewers to flip through art books at a table and chairs and see elements of the collection on a more domestic-looking wall space.

“One of the challenges of curating a private collection is moving the private domestic space for the home to the public space. When you wander through a residence like the Fines’ it’s not organized in an art historical way or chronological way, there are all kinds of surprises from the living room to the bedroom to the foyer. We wanted to honor that surprising spirit of play,” Crosby said.

Though museums are archives of beauty and knowledge, displaying a private collection allows visitors to see how art isn’t just for white-walled spaces, but for appreciation in the home. Beyond academic or institutional value for its contributions to art history, each object in the collection had personal significance to the Fines.

“It’s inspiring to see the effect a life lived collecting can have,” Crosby said. “And buying art doesn’t have to be inaccessible — Milton and Sheila bought from artists at the beginning of their careers — you find your art world to participate in, you find your art world to make sense for you.”

Reicher Fine also encouraged the public to think about the role art can play in their daily lives.

“When I looked at works of art, I was drawn towards the way the paint was applied or the design and asked myself: Was it something that was soothing? Exciting? Stimulating? I wanted to live with things that added to the joy of life,” Reicher Fine said. “This is such a terrible time for us, particularly for Jews, but living with art, even if you only can afford one painting … Living with art enhances your life.” PJC

Emma Riva is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.

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