Art Hamptons Edition

Meet Estrellita B. Brodsky, the Collector Giving Textiles Their Main Character Moment

Estrellita B. Brodsky. Photography by Timothy O'Connell.

For decades, the art-world establishment dismissed textiles as the ugly stepchild of “real” contemporary art. More recently, the outdated hierarchy between art and craft has come crashing down—and collector, curator, and art historian Estrellita B. Brodsky is witnessing the shakeup from the front row.

In the month between when she closed the exhibition “Spin a Yarn” at her Manhattan nonprofit, Another Space, and reopened it at Guild Hall in East Hampton for the summer, she sent one of the works on loan (by the Indigenous Argentinian artist Claudia Alarcón) to the central exhibition at the Venice Biennale. “I got a kick out of how many artists were in the Biennale who we had shown before,” she recalls.

The artists spotlighted by Adriano Pedrosa, the first Latin American curator to lead the Venice Biennale, were new to many art world insiders—but not to Brodsky. For decades, she has studied Latin American art and, along with her husband, real-estate developer Daniel Brodsky, assembled a wide-ranging collection with the region at its heart. She also endowed a curatorial position dedicated to the field at the Tate in London, as well as at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. 

Brodsky takes pains to say she is no textile expert. But the exhibition at Guild Hall in East Hampton, where she has had a home for 50 years, illustrates her interest in looking beyond the well trodden paths of art history. The works on view, culled from her collection along with those of friends and colleagues like the late legendary curator Jack Lenor Larsen, range from examples by fiber-art pioneers, such as Sheila Hicks and Cecilia Vicuña, to lesser-known practitioners reviving ancient Indigenous techniques, like Mónica Millán and Chonon Bensho.

“I like to support young and old artists who don’t have the recognition they deserve,” says Brodsky. “I think that’s important, to be an activist for the field.” Here, she gives CULTURED an inside look at the philosophy and encounters that have shaped her intrepid collection.

CULTURED: How did “Spin a Yarn” first come about?

Estrellita B. Brodsky: It’s an idea I’ve been interested in for a long time—textile as an art form and how underappreciated it had been. We are looking back to the ancient Americas and how they devleoped intricate and sophisticated weaving methods and seeing the idea through to contemporary artists. Text and textiles share the Latin root textere, “to weave.” [Thread] is an alternative to the written word to convey information.

CULTURED: How much of the work in the show is from your collection?

Brodsky: I often start from my own collection because it’s easiest to borrow from. It’s a great excuse to show works that don’t have a permanent home. One that I love is by Mónica Giron, from Argentina—little pullovers for these birds in Patagonia. It’s so touching and sweet. There’s also a 12-foot-tall inflated sweater [depicting] Lionel Messi by Lucrecia Lionti. That’s not one you can hang up at home.

CULTURED: Has your interest in contemporary textiles sparked an interest in older textile traditions?

Brodsky: I have very few pre-Columbian textiles. I’ve started looking at them more after [organizing] this show—they’re just so beautiful and intricate. Some of them date back to before the common era. At Guild Hall, we are only showing a Huari hat and sewing kit from my collection. I could have borrowed others, but there are conflicting attitudes toward showing works from the ancient Americas outside an encyclopedic museum, or if they were used in funerary rites. There is a sensitivity to Indigenous communities that we won’t risk.

“Spin a Yarn,” installation view at Guild Hall, 2024. Photography by Gary Mamay and courtesy of Guild Hall.

CULTURED: Where does the story of your personal collection begin?

Brodsky: I came from a family that appreciated art, and I’m a frustrated artist. I got my master’s in Impressionist art at Hunter College—they didn’t offer a specialty in Latin American art. Then I went back to school [at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University] for my PhD focusing on Latin American art.

The academic has fed the collecting and the curating, and it has fed the activism, too. The truth of the matter is that even today, people say it’s so accessible to see Latin American art, but it isn’t. There are maybe a handful of artists who are [widely accessible]. Latinos and Latin American artists working in the U.S. are always blamed for being derivative, but my interest is to revisit the history that these artists were making together, so we give credit to overlooked masters.

CULTURED: What is the first piece you ever bought?

Brodsky: A Picasso “Tête” painting was the first important work I bought. I still love the work of Picasso—he was Spanish speaking, you know.

CULTURED: What is the piece in your home that sparks the most conversation?

Brodsky: A work by [Argentinian artist] Marta Minujín. It’s a burnt coat on a skewer with a crown of thorns on the top and coal on the bottom. That was a conversation piece. The Jewish Museum borrowed it for her recent show.

What keeps you engaged in collecting? I feel fortunate to have had friendships with artists like Jesús Rafael Soto, Julio Le Parc, and Marta. We have to give them a lot of thanks for sticking with it, especially since some of them had to suffer through military dictatorship. They fought for their beliefs in a real way.

CULTURED: Is there one piece that got away, or that you still think about?

Brodsky: I’m just looking at one of the Jeffrey Gibson sculptures coming up for auction—that or an identical one got away. There’s also a [Lucio] Fontana. I remember having a discussion on the street [with my husband] and I said, “I think I should buy it,” and he said, “What are you doing?” I didn’t do it. When you can afford it and don’t do it, that’s when you kick yourself.

CULTURED: What was the most challenging piece in your personal collection to acquire?

Brodsky: I have a Tomás Saraceno constellation piece that is too big to bring into my home. It’s two meters wide, and it just doesn’t fit through doorways. You’d have to cut it down and re-solder it. It now lives at UOVO [the art storage facility]—until it goes to a museum, hopefully. It’ll find a home one day.

CULTURED: Who is an artist you are particularly excited about right now?

Brodsky: I really like Alvaro Barrington—he’s another who might get away. He was born in Venezuela and lives in London. I have one piece by him, but the one I really wanted was a concrete block that weighed more than 100 pounds. I’ve learned from my Saraceno constellation.

CULTURED: What is the most impractical work in your collection?

Brodsky: I have a beautiful sculpture by [Uruguayan sculptor] Gonzalo Fonseca. We could only put it in one place, where it had reinforcements. That thing is not moving—ever.