Kevin Love, Basketball Guy, Renaissance Man, Has Some Art He’d Like You to Buy
During the NBA playoffs last June, Kevin Love, a veteran NBA power forward and Olympic gold medal winner, was having a serious glow-up. During the regular season, he reportedly clocked the worst on/off impact numbers of his career, and saw Cleveland pull him from the rotation before buying him out of his contract after nine years on the team. In February, he landed on the Miami Heat, who at the time were struggling to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff bubble, but by April snuck into the postseason via the play-in tournament. By June, they were in the finals against the Denver Nuggets—pulling off a nearly unprecedented run—and Love was coming off the bench and scoring double-digits while serving as an elder statesman in the locker room. The Heat knocked off one highly favored behemoth after another—the Milwaukee Bucks, the New York Knicks, the Boston Celtics—and while they got crushed by Denver in game five, Love can claim an eye-popping stat: Each of the five times he’s played on a team in the playoffs, they’ve won the Eastern Conference championship.
A few months after the season, after resigning with the Heat for two more seasons, Love found himself in a different kind of championship, another industry’s holiest of holies. It was the private-view opening of Ed Ruscha’s career retrospective, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and a select few were allowed up to the sixth-floor Steven and Alexandra Cohen Center for Special Exhibitions to take in the show before the unwashed masses. There, the artist was greeted by his dealer, Larry Gagosian; institutional power brokers like MoMA director Glenn Lowry and Los Angeles County Museum of Art director Michael Govan; fellow artists Wolfgang Tillmans and Jeff Koons; the actor John Krasinski and a certain six-foot-eight superfan.
“He’s a very near and dear artist to me, somebody I’ve been able to build a relationship with,” Love, who’s been to Ruscha’s studio several times, told me a couple weeks after the opening. “I got to say hello to him and then just take in his expansive work from the last six decades. That’s really special.”
He owns two Ruscha’s drawings that display the text “The End,” and they hang at the apartment in Tribeca he shares with his wife, Kate, their nearly four-month-old daughter, and an utterly adorable vizsla named Vestry. The Ruschas were actually the first works of contemporary art that Love bought, and since then he’s amassed a collection that includes a sculpture by Antony Gormley, and Doug Aitken wall work displaying the word EXIT, a neon Dan Flavin installation, and a work on ceramic by Rashid Johnson, whom Love considers a friend.
“Actually, it’s his birthday today,” he said, wishing Johnson a happy birthday on a rainy and cold Monday in late September. I was talking to Love at Sotheby’s York Avenue headquarters to discuss his most visible contribution to the art world yet: He’s the latest prominent bold-facer to be tapped to helm a Contemporary Curated sale for the auction house, and he’s selected a handful of works that reflect his taste and collecting history. Okay, fine—Love is not physically present at Sotheby’s. He’s FaceTiming on the phone of Haleigh Stoddard, the head of the Contemporary Curated sale, and Stoddard is bringing a disembodied, very-much-in-Miami Kevin Love around the sale he put together.
“It’s about 85 degrees and sunny, and I’m sitting in the air conditioning right now, having a hot coffee, so I kind of feel like I’m in New York City,” Love said with a grin.
He couldn’t get back to the city, as he’s in the midst of training camp in the Magic City—media day is exactly a week away, and preseason jousting starts the week after. After the shocking run at the end of last season, he knows that there’s some undue attention on the Heat and its star Jimmy Butler, but he said he’s cautiously optimistic. He isn’t beating himself up for losing the last game of the year.
“On our side, obviously we felt like anything could happen, and we had enough talent to do it, but it was a special, special run,” he told me. “Probably the most special in terms of, again, what was expected of us.”
So, yeah, he’s not leaving Miami, not for anything, not even for the two auctions that go down today. And so our tour consisted of Love’s perpetually grinning face floating through the galleries, with the shooter-curator speaking in paragraphs about each of the works that he chose. He’s bursting with his passion for this stuff. Cavs fans who followed his nine-year run in Cleveland know that, even if he acted as third banana to LeBron and Kyrie in his prime years, Kevin Love is an enthusiast—scrambling until the final whistle. And that’s both on and off the court. He’s developed a passion for fancy watches, for sleek interior design grails, for vintage cinema. He’s a complete wine snob, an elite oenophile in a league full of them—he even has his own brand, Chosen Family Wines, that apparently has some legit big tannin energy. He’s a passionate foodie, constantly posting to the ’gram shots with Lilia chef Missy Robbins and Hometown Bar-B-Que pitmaster Billy Durney. When he got married last year at the New York Public Library, Mario Carbone was in attendance, and he’s close friends with Carbone investor and art curator Vito Schnabel, who often helps Love source that one artwork he’s gotta have.
He got into art collecting naturally, over time, and recalled that he started to have conversations with Carmelo Anthony about art when they played in the 2012 Olympics. The then New York Knick was developing a passion for painting that would lead him first to Kehinde Wiley, then to Nathaniel Mary Quinn, and beyond.
“Melo and I spoke a lot about art, and I kind of initiated some of the conversations,” Love said.
He would also talk to his Cavs teammate LeBron James, who led Cleveland to four trips to the NBA finals in four years. Like Love, James owns work by Johnson. He had the artist on The Shop, the HBO talk show that Love has also sat in on. James made it to Capri for the opening of Brice Marden’s show at Casa Malaparte in 2018, and snapped a pic of a studio visit to see new work by Spencer Lewis, with Schnabel in tow. When Vanity Fair stopped by the James residence last fall to check up on James, his wife, Savannah, and the kids, the house sported large canvases by Kareem-Anthony Ferreira and a sculpture by Roy Nachum.
“Who do I talk to about art in the league? Yeah, I mean, LeBron is one of them just because we collect some of the same artists,” Love said.
Several years ago, Love started working with art adviser Jane Suitor, and started upping his participation in the art world carousel—going to Frieze New York, taking trips to shows at the Drawing Center, and dipping into galleries like Hauser & Wirth. In 2020, Love moved into a posh Robert A.M. Stern–designed building in Tribeca, smack dab in the middle of the city’s new hip gallery district. By 2021, he was chummy with Charles Stewart, the Sotheby’s CEO, and in March of that year Love posted to his instagram Stories a picture of him holding an ’82 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, easily a four-figure bottle of Bordeaux.
“A beautiful Mouton @Charles_Stewart,” Love said on his story.
“Thanks for coming by, much better than what we drank last time,” Stewart said in a repost.
By May 2022, Love was at Sotheby’s to celebrate Baz Luhrmann and the release of his new movie Elvis, during which guests—such as hotelier Sean MacPherson and actor Tessa Thompson and a smattering of Sotheby’s bigwigs—supped on dinner by Legacy Records at long tables set up in the York Avenue galleries, with Andy Warhol’s Elvis installed behind Luhrmann. (It sold for $21.5 million later that month.) And in 2023, Love was tapped to pick a few works for the annual Contemporary Curated sale at Sotheby’s. Each year the auction house brings in a ringer to add some sparkle to a sleepy off-season sale, and past guest curators included the likes of Robert Pattinson, Kelly Rowland, Skepta, Oprah Winfrey, and Steve Aoki—somebody put that crew together in a room!
But the Contemporary Curated has never tapped an NBA star to helm a sale, and as I walked through the galleries while Kevin Love–on–a–phone hovered near artworks, we started talking about a small Gormley sculpture he picked for the sale. This one is a body made from a string of cast iron blocks facing down like, say, a power forward splayed on the court after getting fouled.
“That relatability of trying to understand where you fit in the world, and the human body, and interpreting that as an athlete—I’m always thinking about that,” Love said.
We walked by some of his picks, a painting by Issy Wood and a drawing by Cy Twombly— “One of the very first artists that I was drawn to, even before I started collecting, it’s poetry in motion,” he said of Twombly—until we stood in front of a painting by the late Ernie Barnes, whose work set the market ablaze when a bidding war for The Sugar Shack turned a lot estimated to sell for $200,000 into a $15.2 million juggernaut. This Barnes, a work commissioned by Motown Records to pay homage to Marvin Gaye, is expected to sell for up to $1.2 million.
“I grew up listening to Marvin Gaye, and so I was introduced [to Barnes] at an early age,” Love said. “And it wasn’t until recently I actually had learned about his athletic background.”
The Johnson work in the sale prompted Love to talk about his own works by the artist back at home in Tribeca, one of which is Untitled Anxious Audience. For Love, Johnson’s work reminded him of the mental health issues that he tries to combat with the Kevin Love Fund, and the anxiety and dread he detailed in an essay for The Players’ Tribune that talked about his panic attacks that would afflict him in the middle of games. And that prompted a conversation between power forward and painter about what their each getting out of a work of art.
“I was kind of telling him my story and how a lot of my collecting is very intentional and autobiographical,” he said. “And those are two pieces that are very important within my collection, especially because with Rashid, it’s the subject matter, especially the anxious red pieces, the bruise paintings. Those are ones that really stick out to me just because I work in a lot of the mental health space. So that anxiety of the time that we’re in and the time that we’re getting out of, it’s really amazing. Oh, I love those pieces.”
We walked past an early painting by Jennifer Packer that Love chose for the sale, and wound our way past Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Still #21, an iconic one, with Sherman photographing herself embodying what the catalog entry for the edition owned by the Met calls, “the guise of the Hitchcockian ‘career girl’ alone on the streets of the big city.”
“Actually, I was just reading about Hitchcock this morning,” Love said, looking at the Sherman photograph. “I feel like I’m watching Vertigo or I’m watching The Birds or watching Rear Window. That level of suspense—I feel like it’s really shining through this.”
After a beat, Love said, “What is the bid?”
“I would love you to bid,” Stoddard said, shifting into sales mode.
She walked up to the wall label to read the estimate.
“That’s going to be four hundred to six hundred,” she said, meaning six hundred thousand.
Love paused. He had three days to make up his mind on whether to bid in the sale, three days of practices for the reigning Eastern Conference champs who are paying him a reported $3.8 million for the season.