Marguerite Steed Hoffman knows more about the inner workings of the art world than many collectors—she studied for a master’s degree in art history, then rose to be a senior staffer at the Dallas Museum of Art before joining the Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, and advising a number of major art collectors.
Today she is a philanthropist, investor and entrepreneur. She married Robert Hoffman—a successful businessman who co-founded the satirical magazine National Lampoon in the 1960s—and together they played a transformative role in the Dallas Museum of Art. Before his death in 2006, they raised more than $150m for the museum and, with four other Dallas collectors, promised to donate almost 1,000 works.
She is now involved in the Trinity Park Conservancy, a series of public green spaces along 10,000 acres of the Trinity River, which runs through Dallas. A two-volume book devoted to 400 works from her contemporary art collection, Amor Mundi, was published in March.
The Art Newspaper: What was the first work you bought?
Marguerite Steed Hoffman: In the late 1980s I was captivated by a painting by Richard Shaffer in a gallery in Dallas. I got in my car one night to see it again by turning the lights on to the gallery window—which caught the attention of the local police. I had zero money, but I made a convincing case to the (very understanding) dealer who allowed me to pay in modest instalments over a couple of years. I’ll never forget his generosity or the painting, which I still love.
What is your most recent purchase?
Over the decades, first with Robert and then alone, I have bought some artists that have really resonated with us. One is Robert Gober. I was able to acquire a wonderful wall piece from his last show at Matthew Marks. It is a box that looks like an old window frame [Untitled, 2020]. It has a simple matchbook cover leaning as if on a windowsill, hinting at the occupant behind the pale curtain. There is a quiet sense of voyeurism and longing for connection. It is a perfect reflection on our imposed interiority during Covid.
If money were no object, what would be your dream purchase?
Right now I’m really drawn to antiquities and medieval manuscripts. I began collecting illuminated books of hours in 2008 after my first trip to Tefaf in Maastricht. I believe that my interest in older and ancient art has something to do with my own ageing, and the realisation that we are all just a blip on the continuum.
If your house was on fire, which work would you save?
I might be the person who dies in the blaze trying to rescue it all. But my gut tells me I would race to my library to save the manuscripts. They have survived for more than 600 years and I don’t want them to expire on my watch.
What is the most surprising place you have displayed a work?
Perhaps my most surprising placement is a non-placement. I have refrained from acquiring any outdoor sculpture (apart from a Sol LeWitt undulating red wall) even though we have a large garden that calls out for art. Robert and I used to say that unless we could do it as well as Nancy and Ray Nasher down the street, why compete? I also love the unencumbered green expanse of lawn. It amplifies the viewing of the art in the buildings inside.
Which artists, dead or alive, would you invite to your dream dinner party?
I would go on a museum field trip instead. I would start with a small group of painters: Jasper Johns, Julie Mehretu, Peter Doig, Dana Schutz, a group small enough to huddle around a work and discuss it. It is fascinating to me to listen to artists on their peers. They often see things that I never would. (And I wouldn’t have to cook.)
What’s the best collecting advice you have been given?
Study art history. Great artists are good students of the art that came before them, understanding that every action is a response to what we have experienced before. The more I learn about the ever-widening history of art and the cultures that produced them, the more I understand the contemporary arena.
Which work do you regret not buying when you had the chance?
A wonderful latex wall piece by Eva Hesse made in 1968. It is a honeycombed set of “containers” that are the perfect amalgamation of vulnerability and strength. What a colossal fail on my part. And I missed it twice. The second time due to financial constraints, as the piece had appreciated considerably. Still, I wonder if I could have found a way.
Have you ever bought an NFT?
Not yet because I don’t know the landscape well enough to do anything apart from treat it as an alternative asset class. I do invest in the crypto space but when it comes to NFT art, I’m dragging my feet. Can you fully enjoy a work of art without being in its presence? I am sure Duchamp would say yes. But for now, I’m old school.