The House That Art Built
An exclusive look at one of the city’s most lively private collections.
Despite owning dozens of paintings, drawings, sculptures, and video installations, Ellen Bruss and Mark Falcone don’t consider themselves art collectors.
Instead, they collect friends…friends who happen to be artists or artists who become friends. They’ve built relationships with internationally renowned video installation artist Isaac Julien, Denver painter Stephen Batura, and many others whose works have been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which sits right next door to the couple’s three-floor home.
“Everyone collects art differently,” says Bruss, who runs EBD, a marketing and design firm in RiNo. Bruss and Falcone seek out smart pieces that provide an interesting message or a new perspective—pieces they find a connection to, sometimes created by artists with whom they’ve developed strong relationships.
Living 25 feet from the MCA—a situation created when Falcone donated the land upon which the museum was built in 2007—helps with the latter part. The couple, who met in 2000 and married in 2003, regularly host visiting MCA artists in their David Adjaye–designed home. The 6,000-square-foot house is filled with vibrant creations—many acquired early in the couple’s courtship. “When we started dating, I began buying Mark art as gifts,” says Bruss, who grew up in Milwaukee watching her mother collect local artists’ works. When Bruss moved to Denver in the ’80s, she continued the family tradition, buying pieces from the boundary-pushing Pirate gallery. There she met artists like Batura and William Stockman, with whom she developed long-term friendships.
Today, those same artists feature prominently in the couple’s home, alongside works by 16th-century Italian artists and others. “We like to weave in local artists’ work with national artists’ work and show it holds up,” Bruss says. And, we’d argue, in some cases even outshines it.
1 “True North” by Isaac Julien
In 2006, Bruss and Falcone made one of their first purchases together, an Isaac Julien video installation called “True North.” Stills from “True North,” inspired by black American
explorer Matthew Henson—one of the first men to reach the North Pole—hang in the couple’s living room; the roof holds the installation itself. The couple met Julien that year at the Lab at Belmar, where the English artist was showing. (Julien has also exhibited at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.) They’ve since bought two more of his works, “Fantome Afrique” and “Western Union:
Small Boats.” “They’re all super layered pieces,” Bruss says. “Whether for beauty, story line, or technical expertise—any way you look at them, they’re amazing.”
2 “The Secret of Bee Hives” and “Lepidotera” by David Zimmer
Bruss met Denverite David Zimmer—who crafts funky sculptures, built from castoff material, that play video and emit sound—in LoDo through friends in the 1980s. Today, he’s gained national exposure thanks to art fairs like Miami Beach’s Art Basel, where his unique work was recently displayed. Such shows are helping combat the idea that work created outside of major art centers is somehow second-class. “New York and L.A. just have the cachet and credibility, but art fairs are changing that,” Bruss says. “They’re really helping to get local artists exposure.”
3 “Misconception” by Stephen Batura
Bruss and Batura became acquainted 25 years ago at Denver’s Pirate gallery. “It was a hot spot,” she says. “A lot of the well-known galleries’ artists started there—like Robischon. DAM curators would even come over to look at shows.” Since then, she’s watched her friend’s star rise: Batura has had shows at the MCA and has seen his work go from selling for a couple hundred dollars to upward of $5,000. Bruss has been a part of the process, too, making frequent stops by Batura’s studio to view in-progress work. “I like seeing how artists take the vision for something and craft a piece,” she says.
4 “Firmament” by William Stockman
Bruss purchased this piece in 2006 after visiting the studio of her old
acquaintance from Pirate, Stockman, to get some framing done. While there, she discovered he’d returned to acrylic paintings, beyond his charcoal sketches. “I thought they were amazing,” says Bruss, gesturing to “Firmament” which hangs in the living room. “I think Bill’s work is sad and happy and true. ‘Firmament’ seems like a dream state of who is in your thoughts.” Bruss and others pushed Stockman to show his new work. Two years later, Stockman snagged a show at the Mizel Museum, and in 2010, he landed one at the MCA.