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The dealer Emilia Yin, who owns the Hollywood-based gallery Make Room, is a formidable collector in her own right. She owns works by established contemporary artists like the sculptor Tony Matelli, the painter Rachel Howard and the Turner Prize-winner Tomma Abts as well as Modern masters like Giorgio de Chirico, René Magritte, Fernando Botero and Hans Arp. Before the start of a busy Frieze Los Angeles week—when her gallery was due to open a Youngmin Park show and launch a new project by Terence Koh, in addition to mounting an ambitious solo stand by Yeni Mao at the fair—Yin discussed her approach to collecting and tips for out-of-towners.

The Art Newspaper: What was the first work you ever bought?

Emilia Yin: There are two, both by Louis Fratino: Night Driver (2015) and Sanft Morgan (2016). I saw them at a show called Human Condition when I was in college. The intimate setting in his work reminds me of the tender moments living in Los Angeles—driving at night or a slow Sunday afternoon with my friends—not to mention it was exceptionally done as a painting. I remember being so intrigued that I went back to see them twice before deciding to acquire them. These two works are hung in my bedroom and I enjoy looking at them every day.

One that got away: Untitled (1998), one of Louise Bourgeois’s hologram works

What was the most recent work you bought?

A painting by Make Room artist Guimi You, Blessed Blossom (2023), which she painted for my husband and me as a gift for our wedding. Guimi wanted to be at our wedding, but it was too far for her to travel from Seoul, where she lives. But painting became her way of being there; in Blessed Blossom, she painted my husband and me, as well as the landscapes where we got engaged, all composed with the background of our new Hollywood gallery. The painting was then shown at the gallery as part of her solo show. It’s such a meaningful way to remember that day.

How quickly do you decide to buy a work of art?

The process is different for every acquisition, and I like to let the specific work guide my approach. There have been times when I’ve acted on instinct; I’ve seen work, and I just knew I needed it and couldn’t live without it. Other times, I’ve wanted to learn more about the artist, the work and the gallery before making an informed decision. I think one needs both.

What do you regret not buying when you had the chance?

Louise Bourgeois’s red hologram sculptures of interior space when they were first shown at Hauser & Wirth in Hong Kong. It was so beautiful, and I was fascinated by the world she built.

What is the most unusual place you’ve installed a piece in your home?

We have a sculpture from Tony Matelli’s Weed series on the moulding board of our staircase. I love putting art in places people don’t expect and watching how that changes how they understand the work. This one suggests nature’s reclamation of the space and reminds viewers of our small part in a much larger ecosystem.

If you could have any work from any museum in the world, what would it be?

That’s a very difficult question! My top choice would be René Magritte’s The Treachery of Images (1929), also known as Ceci n’est pas une pipe. This work creates a three-way paradox out of the conventional notion that objects correspond to words and images. It’s something I think about in my curatorial work as well. I’ve always been drawn to Surrealism and works that reward a close study. In his paintings, scenes are just a little off, reminding us that, in seeing one thing, we’re always obscuring something else.

What are you looking out for during Frieze Los Angeles?

I’m eager to see the really ambitious presentations at the fair featuring sculpture from Jeffrey Deitch and Galería OMR this year. People tend to think of the art scene in Los Angeles as less interested in intellectual and conceptual works, and more focused on brightly coloured paintings. I think that’s changing, and the new generation of galleries and collectors are an important driving force. Silverlens is presenting a stand from Stephanie Syjuco, an artist who challenges historical memory in ways I find both original and fascinating. I can’t wait to see it. Our gallery is presenting a solo stand dedicated to a large-scale multi-sculpture installation from the artist Yeni Mao, and I’m excited to see how these works speak to each other and represent new momentum in the Los Angeles art scene.

What’s your least favourite thing about art fairs?

It’s a short amount of time to consume an overwhelming amount of information. The short period is what makes an art fair exciting, and what makes it possible for so many people to be able to attend—but it also means that a collector has to learn to make fairly quick decisions for the works that they first encounter. There are fewer opportunities to reflect at an art fair, so you have to come in knowing your taste and trusting your instinct.

What tip would you give to someone visiting Los Angeles during Frieze for the first time?

Los Angeles is full of exciting alternative spaces run by artists and institutions. Places like the Institute of Contemporary Art, 2220 Arts + Archives and Art + Practice are helping to make the scene more accessible and diverse. On the practical side, have a good itinerary. Los Angeles is more sprawling than many other cities and you should try to group events in similar areas as much as possible—and you should leave room for and expect traffic.

Where do you like to eat and drink near Santa Monica Airport?

Shunji on Ocean Park Boulevard is an incredible Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant. I highly recommend the omakase. Closer to Santa Monica pier and for a more casual option, there’s also a Sushi Enya at Sawtelle. They specialise in nigiri, or hand rolls, and they’re some of the best in the city.

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