Mar 29, 2023
Carla Shen, trustee of the Brooklyn Museum, takes on a tour of the Brooklyn Museum and tells us her secret behind matching outfits to art.
How did you begin your art collecting journey?
My mother was a ceramicist (she had a pottery studio and shop in Brooklyn Heights with three other women), and she and my father started collecting Chinese ceramics when I was very young. As I got older, they shifted to collecting contemporary prints, and then again to early 20th century American modernist paintings. Seeing how much my parents enjoyed collecting art, and tangentially being part of their process, I discovered how exciting and fulfilling it can be to learn about art and artists, and collect works that resonate with and inspire you.
When my husband and I moved into our first apartment together, we realized we didn’t have anything to hang on our empty walls. It prompted us to start going to some of the smaller art fairs and galleries, develop a sense of what kind of art we both liked, and ultimately to start buying art.
What was your inspiration behind #CarlasCamo - how did you begin matching your wardrobe to art?
The first “#CarlasCamo” moment occurred when my daughter and I fortuitously wore pink outfits to a Richard Mosse show that was filled with giant lush pink-tinted photographs. I posted a photo of us standing in front of one of the pieces, and received so many comments about how well we blended into the artworks. A few days later, I visited another gallery, and was amused to find that I happened to be wearing a similar pattern and color scheme to one of the artworks.
After that, I started to put more thought into what I could wear to various openings or exhibitions that might match the art I was going to see. In a weird way, I felt like it was my way of paying tribute to the artist. I started to do more research ahead of time, and slowly, I began to try to intentionally match shows or specific artworks, even if that meant buying or borrowing clothes or accessories in order to do so. Now, matching art is my favorite hobby, since it marries my love of art and fashion.
You have such a colorful closet, what color is your favorite to wear?
That’s such a difficult question to answer! I don’t know that I have a favorite color to wear, but I do love jewel tones and metallics. I’m a born and bred New Yorker, so I also own a lot of black.
Who are some of the artists that you’re excited about right now?
I’m really excited about Melissa Joseph’s work. She is a Brooklyn-based artist who works mostly with textiles, ceramics and found objects. Her work focuses on family history, collective memory, and shared experiences. I also love Susan Chen’s colorful figurative paintings. She usually paints members of the Asian community and focuses on issues of identity, belonging, and representation of Asian Americans in art.
As a trustee of the Brooklyn Museum, tell us something about the Brooklyn Museum that few people know about or why they should check it out.
While the Brooklyn Museum is the second largest museum in New York City, when it was first founded in 1898, it was designed to be the largest museum in the world. The original McKim, Mead and White design proposed a building four times the size of what was actually built (construction was stopped in 1927). The grand staircase was supposed to have been twice the height of the staircase at the Metropolitan Museum! Now, when I wander through the Brooklyn Museum galleries, I think about what the Museum would have been like if the original design had been built.
Who are the women who inspire you?
My mother, my daughter, Michelle Yeoh, Anne Pasternak, Serena Williams, Agnes Gund, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Georgia O’Keeffe, all of my friends, and so many more.
What motivates you when you need an extra push?
I think about my mother, who passed away in her 50s. She was such a vibrant, generous, engaged and curious person, and there was still so much she wanted to and should have been able to do and see in her life. If I’m ever feeling unmotivated or apprehensive, I think about how lucky I am to be alive and have the opportunity to participate fully in whatever is put in front of me, even if it feels hard. My mother always taught me to appreciate what you have and not to sweat the small stuff.