The Art of Collecting

An architect talks about art in his home, collecting and his changing ideas of art.

By Sharon Withers

“I have four hundred women holding a torch for me in my living room,” says Eric Mandil. Not many men can make that claim, but Mandil, principal of Mandil Inc., an architectural firm that also specializesin color and interior design, carefully curated his collection of more than 400 reproductions of theStatue of Liberty. It seems a meaningful collection for his home, which he moved into on a July Fourth.

For 15 years he has combed flea markets, tourist traps and antique “junque” shops, always keeping an eye out for Lady Liberty. One of the oldest is from the 1870’s. In size they range from tiny to 18 inches or more. The materials include metals, stones, plaster and even a few are “tacky plastic.”

“I enjoy seeing them everyday,” says Mandil. “I’m still going, trying to find ones I don’t have.” Mandil raisescollecting, curating and displaying to a high art form.

Art has always been part of Mandil’s life. As a boy, he and his mother made regular trips to the National Gallery and Smithsonian. In his 20’s, instead of filling his home with fine furniture, he began collecting 20th-century master prints as an investment. Name artist such as Manet, Lautrec and 21st-century artist Robert Rauschenberg covered his walls. As provenance and reputation lost their allure for Mandil, he began to look at local artists and objects that fascinated him.

Mario Rivoli attracted Mandil’s attention. Rivoli’s “Alexander the Man Who Knows” hangs in Mandil’s entry hall, along with five other turbaned gentlemen, who, according to Mandil, are protectors of his home, guards at the front gate, so to speak.

He began to take everyday objects and display them in visually stimulating ways, such as three balls strategically arranged on a shelf in his bathroom. “I have fun with little quirky things,” says Mandil. “They don’t have to be expensive. How you display it can make it into an art object.” It is part of storytelling, staging and finding relationships that vibrate among the objects. The result is thoughtfully curated collections.

Lobsters would fall into the quirky category. Mandil has about 400 of them on display in his offices. A Pueblo museum borrowed them for inclusion in its Collections of the Absurd exhibit.

Mandil’s sense of the absurd doesn’t end with lobsters. In a Seattle flea market, he found ceramic heads originally created for nephrology mapping. They had not been painted because of defects. A single head would not have any meaning or impact. Mandil bought all the heads for a song. With thoughtful placement and dramatic lighting, they took on meaning for Mandil. “There is power in multiples,” he says.

“Art and collecting should give you pleasure,” Mandil says. “I collected because the beautiful inspires me. We are custodians of art.”

His drive to collect and create art from objects comes from his passion for the image and meaning. “Symbolism in my collections means something to me but may not mean anything to anyone else. Now I collect friends. I like having a lot of friends around. I learn from being around them.”

Collecting ultimately influences Mandil’s professional life. “Art inspires my craft,” he says. “It makes my head tick.”

Living room works make an edited statement. Left to right: J.C. Leyendecker, U.S. Bonds vintage poster; World War II propaganda poster, circa 1940; Aristide Bruant Sons Le Cabaret, Toulouse Lautrec, lithograph; Landscape, Mel Carter, oil on board

The 6-inch by 3-inch turbaned gentlemen, taken from a set of English cast iron andirons, circa 1890, are now installed as art in Mandil’s entryway. They are part of a theme of men in turbans who “guard” the entrance.

Over a period of 15 years, Mandil has collected more than 400 souvenir Statues of Liberty.

The English carved marble dog, circa 1850, measures 52 inches long by 15 inches high by 15 inches wide. Mandil found it at Eron Johnson Antiques.