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Style Schifter: Melissa Bent Talks High Fashion and Affordable Art

Jane Mount

In her new web column, Lucky contributor Helen Schifter reveals what's she's wearing, watching and of course, buying.

Where did I meet Melissa Bent? I think it was in the front row at a Proenza Schouler fashion show. She’s one of a madcap group of friends and colleagues that morph around Jack (McCollough) and Lazaro (Hernandez), including Justinian Kfoury, Amy Greenspon and Shirley Cook. Melissa was one of the cofounders of the Rivington Arms Gallery, which was around for just a short time, but was groundbreaking nonetheless.

“The boys,” as the designers are widely called, have sent many good things my way over the years: that gorgeous eyelash dress from Spring 2010; my daughter’s fifth grade math tutor, Doug, who’s Jack’s older brother; margaritas at sunset in Capri (where they “borrowed” a fisherman’s boat the night before). And exposure to some super creative, stylish New Yorkers. Here's a little interview with Melissa, who recently signed on as a curator for affordable art company 20x200.com, to inspire us all....

How do you describe your taste... in fashion? In contemporary art?

I guess with clothes, pretty classic. I've been wearing Hudson jeans for years—they fit really well. I'm not sure why but they work. I just got a pair of Closed chino's in blue that are good for this strange spring transition in New York. Perfect with the very dependable James Perse t-shirts as well as long vintage men's tuxedo shirts. Clergerie brogues, too.

With art, strangely...I just got a lot of things back from the framer that had been in NY for two years when I was away and it surprised me that so much of the work was black and white. A lot of the more colorful works are in storage in Boston. Works that were either too big to take by plane/train/car and need to be shipped or work that my parents liked and hung on their walls and I can't get back!

Favorite designers?

I am a huge fan of Lyn Devon and Chadwick Bell. The cuts and fabrics they both use are truly perfect for lunch/dinners and looking like you're making lots of money!

Benedicte Sehested

How do these two worlds mix/collide/inspire eachother in your daily life/amongst your friends, etc.?

There are no distinct worlds. It's a real interplay between everything: the art fairs, the shows, the travel. It's nice to make home a good calming focus of these ideas: plants and art and clothes and food. There are so many events that sometimes the best of everything happens when you take out the extra noise of the city and focus on conversations. My day starts with walking to work in SoHo, so being an observer is a very satisfying way to begin thinking about what lies ahead.

Describe 20x200.com!

20x200 is a new kind of democratic for the art world! We work with artists from emerging to established to make limited edition archival prints that are sold online for very reasonable amounts of money. 20x200 affords enthusiasts and young collectors the opportunity to collect and directly support both artists who have been canonized in the art world as well as those who are emerging.

What is your role at 20x200.com? Why is it fun?

My role is to bring in a new tier of curation, names that are more established and artists who are at different stages in their career: museum shows, biennials, influencers. Many of these artists are only collected by either institutions or that well known yet elusive group, the one percent! I'm interested in bringing work by these established artists to people who are the museum curators, the art handlers, installing the installations and seeing their retrospectives. It's great because I'm working with artists that I've admired and known for years some of whom I met having Rivington Arms and didn't get the chance to work with at that time and others who I had the opportunity to show at the gallery.

What are your favorite works over time from the site?

There are literally hundreds of works on the site but I particularly like Simon Fujiwara's.

Who loves the site?

Lots of people. From the novice to the enthusiast to the museum patron. A lot of curators who have a real dedication and knowledge of artists and art history, but maybe not the budgets to collect a painting, photo or installation.

There is also the directness of the purchase. Many galleries vet who the collector is before even considering to sell anything and this is for many reasons. Online, there is a real evening out of the playing field in regards to who can purchase (anyone!) and what they can purchase (anything until it's sold out—we don't reprint sold out editions ever!)

Who are your favorite artists, on and off the site? Which artists are your friends?

So many favorites! Manet, Fred Sandback, Caravaggio, Mathew Cerletty, Cindy Sherman, Cecily Brown, Simon Fujiwara—love, love him. My friend was at Staedelschule with him and I would see him over the years in London when I'd do Frieze. I've known Alistair Frost through a friend's gallery in London for many years and it was good to re-connect with him for this project. I met Jessica Craig-Martin as a free spirited youth in college—she was a delight to work with. I'm looking forward to a project that we're putting together with Peter Coffin, who was an early fan of the gallery and I've stayed in touch with through art fairs, travel and common friends.

How can a young collector begin?

Begin by looking at everything that interests you. Galleries are free and unfettered with aesthetic restrictions. What are you drawn to when you visit museums? Texture, color, composition.

Collecting can start anywhere—20x200 is a place that encourages a lot of looking and the ease and transparency of purchasing work. without a huge commitment. It's so affordable and a lot of the artists are either showing at galleries or are just starting to exhibit.   

What are your goals for the site?

To bring in more of the artists I've admired and loved for years, Peter Doig, Marilyn Minter who is doing amazing things at Family Business, Cecily Brown, Rachel Feinstein.

Bringing more clarity and ease of search to our customers and of course spreading the word about all the amazing artists we are presenting!

Click through to see some of the amazing works Melissa has commissioned for 20x200.com.

"People Who Eat White Bread Have No Dreams," by Simon Fujiwara

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helen lee schifter