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Fred Ognibene

Occupation: physician

Size of Collection: 320 pieces

Value of Collection: $500,000

No milieu embodies “alternative” more than Manhattan in the ’70s, where Ognibene got his first exposure to the arts scene. His curiosity about this parallel universe mushroomed into a passion after an early-’80s move to Washington, where Ognibene’s new roommate introduced him to several local artists. His first purchase was a $200 monoprint by Isabel Field. Now he buys 10 to 30 pieces a year, many from annual exhibition/party Art Basel Miami Beach. Ognibene describes his favorite style of art as “minimal but not classic. It’s based on minimal or geometric, gridlike organization.” His style of art collecting isn’t classic, either: “ ‘Collector’ is a term I feel uncomfortable using,” he says. “I guess it’s just a modesty thing.”

Fun Fact:

• Most Expensive Piece of Artwork: a painting by Robin Rose worth more than $10,000

• Pieces of Artwork Donated to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden: 2

• Pieces of Furniture Mistaken for Artwork by a Visitor to Ognibene’s Home: 2

Tony Podesta

Occupation: lobbyist, political campaigner

Size of Collection: more than 2,000 pieces

Value of Collection: untold millions

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After 25 years of collecting, Podesta has managed to bridge his political and artistic interests by displaying several of his favorite works of art in the offices of his D.C. lobbying firm. PodestaMattoon has worked with clients ranging from Cingular Wireless to Lockheed Martin to the Washington Post Co. to Heineken USA. But Podesta’s collecting theory is one of specialization: “a limited number of artists collected in substantial depth.” In practice, this means owning relatively few works by untested Washingtonians but plenty of photographs by celebrated Latin American Daniella Rossell, many depicting scantily clad Mexican heiresses.

Fun Fact:

• Sam Taylor-Wood’s Soliloquy VII, a 7-foot-tall photograph of a naked man lying on a bed, hangs in Podesta’s living room.

Philip Barlow

Occupation: actuary

Size of Collection: 225 pieces

Value of Collection: $250,000

This government actuary is important enough to the local arts community that his dinner conversations make the Washington Post. Or at least one did, in October 2004, when Barlow was dismissed as curator of the Washington Project for the ArtsCorcoran’s 2005 “Options” exhibition. “[He said] he would exclude Party Animals and PandaMania artists,” one WPAC board member told the Post. “I was there. I heard that.” Presumably, meals with girlfriend and co-collector Lisa Gilotty go unreported. One of the couple’s most prized works is a colossal painting by Washington painter Simon Gouverneur, who set fire to his studio and hanged himself in 1990. Estate complications—involving Gouverneur’s widow and three ex-wives—kept Barlow from snagging the piece earlier than he did.

Fun Fact:

• Favorite Local Gallery: Brody’s, which closed in 1994

Juanita & Mel Hardy

Occupations: consultant, retiree

Size of collection: More than 400 pieces

Value of collection: $250,000

Juanita started first, buying a tiny piece made of butterfly wings for less than $25 two decades ago. Since then, she’s met and married Mel, retired from her 31-year career with IBM, and refined her collection criteria. She and her husband now buy works by artists such as Arkansas native Kevin Cole, whose fantastic necktie sculptures explore issues of class and race. Indeed, the Hardys could be called art activists: They periodically open their home to host the Millennium Arts Salon, which “provides an elegant and safe environment for…insights into the selfless quest for beauty in one’s life.” And you won’t find much on their walls that doesn’t demonstrate the importance of African-American art to the broader national culture.

Fun Fact:

• Artists Known on a First-Name Basis: about a dozen

• Pieces on Loan or Donated: 0—“But it will happen,” says Juanita.

• Amiri Baraka came to the District of Columbia Arts Center as their guest.

Aaron Levine

Occupation: attorney

Size of Collection: 200 pieces

Value of Collection: “That’s not nice.”

The elevator that empties into the lobby of Levine’s fifth-floor law offices in Dupont Circle opens in front of 10 enormous Electric Chair prints by Andy Warhol. Levine sometimes jokes that they represent his first 10 clients. But Aaron M. Levine & Associates, which specializes in cases involving defective medical treatments, has won plaintiffs more than $80 million over the past 40 years. Levine’s collecting began out of nowhere, in 1980. “I had a dream I didn’t even know about,” he says cryptically. “Once I had an opportunity to realize the impact, I became an addict.” Despite his legal success, Levine insists that he has “limited funds, and I buy art that I can afford and that talks to me about what’s going on in the artist’s mind.”

Fun Fact:

• Favorite Artist: Marcel Duchamp

• Favorite Piece by Duchamp: 1917’s paradigm-shifting urinal, Fountain

• Favorite Art-World Platitude: “Today the artist doesn’t complete the picture. You complete the picture.”

Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photographs by Darrow Montgomery, Illustrations by Robert Ullman.