Collector to Watch: Film Producer Michael Sherman Views Buying Art as a ‘Curation Process’

Before he produced a documentary on Maurizio Cattelan or worked with Rashid Johnson on his adaptation of Richard Wright’s Native Son, Michael Sherman decided to fill a new home he purchased in Los Angeles in 2011 with art. He bought pieces by Wes Lang, whom he met in New York, and Noah Davis, a recommendation from friends Chris Gibbs and Beth Birkett, owners of streetwear mecca Union Los Angeles.

At first, Sherman was put off by the art market, which he found difficult to break into because “if people didn’t know you, they don’t sell you anything,” he said. In 2014 he continued to buy art, and began acquiring from smaller galleries; he also reached out to artists directly on the then-nascent Instagram. “I still love the discovery. My favorite collecting style is to discover somebody myself,” he said.

As a producer, Sherman has financed documentaries that focus on some of today’s most pressing issues: the 2020 Netflix hit Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen concerns media representations of trans people, and Hulu’s 2020 The Fight is about the American Civil Liberties Union during the Trump era. Other projects include the Elisabeth Moss drama Her Smell and the hit HBO series Betty.

Occasionally, his worlds collide. In 2016 Johnson approached him about producing a film adaptation of Native Son, which had already tapped Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks to write the screenplay and would mark Johnson’s directorial debut. Having always admired his art, Sherman agreed. Before filming began in Cleveland, Sherman visited Johnson’s 2018 show at David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles and acquired one of his multimedia works. “He put a copy of Native Son in the work that I own. It’s a very personal piece for us,” he said.

Sherman sees collecting as similar to producing films, since there’s “a curation process” to both, and he gravitates toward undertold stories in both mediums, with an emphasis on collecting work by Black, Afro-Caribbean, and Indigenous artists. “I’m trying to collect artists that aren’t the ‘hype artists’ or ‘art darlings,’” he said. One day, he hopes to open a space for his collection, where work by these artists can be in dialogue with one another.

Outside collecting and producing, Sherman serves on the board of advisors at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, where he now lives, and is a trustee at the Baltimore Museum of Art, in his hometown. He considers it his personal mission to “get every Baltimore artist that I know and collect” into the B.M.A., including Jerrell Gibbs and Kandis Williams, who now lives in Los Angeles and recently won the Hammer’s Mohn Award for her participation in Made in L.A. “I feel like it’s my duty to make sure that these young Baltimore artists become a permanent part of the museum,” he said.

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