From the earliest days of Jody and Gerald “Gerry” Lippes’ courtship, art was always in the picture. “My introduction to art came hand in hand with my introduction to Gerry,” Jody says. “Collecting was such a force in his life. When we met and started dating, that’s what we did. He’d call and say, ‘There’s an art show in Miami. Come on, we’re going!’” As the couple crisscrossed the country, checking out galleries, museums and fairs, Gerry exposed Jody to a whole new way of looking at art. “It’s another language. It’s like reading a book or seeing a play or enjoying an opera. Art is talking to you,” he says. It wasn’t long before Jody fell in love with both the man and his passion for picking up particular pieces that spoke to him along the way.
While the couple collects contemporary artists—a term Gerry admits carries a fluid interpretation—each of their homes has a focus: Their New York City pied-à-terre houses modern abstract masters like Robert Motherwell, Jules Olitski and Helen Frankenthaler (the artists he collected when he first started acquiring art). In Buffalo, they showcase emerging artists. And their Naples condo is filled with the work of midcareer artists.
While Gerry considers himself a “compulsive acquirer of art” today (“We’re always buying; never selling, unfortunately,” he says), he wasn’t always. Gerry didn’t even visit an art museum until the 1980s. “My father was first-generation American, so he cared as much about art as he did the driveway,” he says. While not too many folks can say that professional hockey led the way to analyzing abstracts and action paintings, for the Lippeses, it did. “I was involved with the Sabres in Buffalo, and the managing partner nominated me to the board of the Albright-Knox. It was a miracle I was elected,” he says. “I walked into that museum and fell in love. I’ve been collecting ever since.”
The Albright-Knox Gallery, known for its deep collection of contemporary and modern art, created the foundation for the couple and set them on a path of acquiring works by living artists. When they decided to set down roots in Naples in 2011, they were drawn to a large apartment in the Seapoint at Naples Cay high-rise primarily because of its proximity to the Gulf.
With the art at the top of her mind, Jody embarked on a 12-month, floor-to-ceiling renovation that resulted in many walls coming down and plenty of well-placed spaces to showcase the collection without impeding the water views or restricting natural light. The couple says that getting just-right lighting has been no easy feat, and they’re still on the fence about some of the off-white paint color. “I think museums have now gone with a spectrum of colors. The Baker had an exhibition, and the walls were a dark, yummy, rich lavender,” Jody says. “I would like to paint one of these white walls a different color.”
Today, there are 130 pieces in the apartment, ranging from mixed media collages to digital installations. Every piece acquired is decided on together. If Gerry picks up something Jody doesn’t favor, it goes in his Buffalo office (“where she never goes.”). The reverse is never the case. “Jody has excellent taste,” he says.
Museum-like as the couple’s collection may be, the space is anything but a sterile gallery. Jody created a warm and welcoming home by layering in a mix of European antiques that she sourced on travels and locally at the Naples Art, Antique & Jewelry Show. While the contrast between the art and antique furnishings is extreme, Jody says she doesn’t really think about the specifics of the artwork when she’s furnishing any of her homes. “Art works wherever and with whatever furnishings you have. It speaks for itself as long as you offer the viewer enough space to see the work,” she says.
The Lippeses have provided more than enough room to see the work. Not only do they lend pieces to Artis—Naples, The Baker Museum, they also have a fairly generous open-door policy for the curious and enthusiastic. While the views of the Gulf remain the same, the collection is ever-changing. “I have a lot more control and restraint,” Jody says, regarding how voraciously she acquires new works. Gerry agrees—to an extent: “I like to say Gerry at an art show is like Jody in a shoe department.”
Photography by Brian Tietz