From Street Fair to Board Chair: Helen Zell’s Art Collecting Journey

Sam and Helen Zell made a splash in the Chicago art world Wednesday by donating $10 million to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Watch an insightful 2011 video of Helen Zell talking about how she went from being a street fair buyer to one of the most influential art supporters in the city.

Today’s announcement that Chicago billionaire Sam Zell and his wife, Helen, have made a $10 million gift to the Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago prompted us to dig up this thoughtful Smithsonian video of Helen Zell from 2011. In the video, part of a “Collectors Roundtable” series, the prominent MCA supporter talks about the “obsessive” nature of the collector and reminisces about the emotional reactions she has had over the years to specific artworks, mainly surrealist ones. The video, which runs an hour-plus, is unique because it not only traces her journey from a casual street fair art buyer to collector (a journey that, not surprisingly, provides some insight into her marriage to Sam Zell in the 1990s), but it offers a rare glimpse into the thought processes of one of the most influential forces on Chicago’s contemporary art scene.

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