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Issue Date: August 2011


Work Space

MOCA's Jill Snyder displays her love for art in her Shaker Heights apartment.

Jill Snyder brings her work home with her. It's everywhere you look. As the executive director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, she's worked with artists from throughout the world and has collected a lot of pieces along the way.

But walking through her Shaker Heights apartment isn't like walking through a museum. It's lived-in. It's comfortable. It's like meeting a friend at her place for coffee, and you just happen to catch Spencer Tunick's 2004 mass nude photograph in Cleveland out of the corner of your eye.

"This is the most famous thing that the museum did," Snyder says. "There were 2,700 people who came. I think what was so wonderful about it was how everyone got really focused. They were a part of making something really unprecedented and beautiful."

As she curls up on the boxy, army-green couch she found at Design Within Reach to match the French 1930s vintage army-green club chair in her airy living room, she tells stories of how each piece of art came into her life.

She turns her head and points to a piece by her father, who was an artist and gallery owner in Princeton, N.J. Then her eyes dart to two photographs by a family friend, Naomi Savage, who was the niece of famous French photographer Man Ray.

"She was only 18 years old when she went to study with him in Paris when he was doing a lot of experimental work," Snyder says.

She has a piece from photographer and artist Andres Serrano, whose works often incorporate bodily fluids to explore provocative matters such as religion and identity. She pauses over another piece from German artist Werner Drewes, who moved to New York in the 1930s and stayed with Snyder and her family once. On it is scrawled: "To Jill, for letting us sleep in her nice bed."

After moving to Cleveland in 1996 to work at MOCA, Snyder quickly settled on Shaker Heights and one of seven apartment buildings built in 1925 by the Van Sweringen brothers for people who were downsizing from their grand Shaker Heights homes.

"In the largest of the seven buildings, you can still see where there were shops," she says. "It was just a whole other time, but the architecture of these buildings is all spectacular."

Her apartment has decorative crown moldings in each room, hardwood floors and a large marble fireplace. "I'm from New York City, and this is the Park Avenue apartment I could never afford," she says.

She particularly loves the white walls, which are perfect for showing off her art. Her collecting style can't easily be defined. It isn't all modernist paintings or photographs. It's the story of her life: People she's met along the way, places she's traveled.

"It's a little bit eccentric because it follows my personal relationships," she says.

And she hopes to pass her love for art down to her 8-year-old daughter, Sasha.

"Every year I have been getting her a work of art as part of her own collection," Snyder says. "They are often artists we work with at MOCA."

Four paintings hang above the head of Sasha's bed. The top three are from an artist friend, Lynda Britton, and include flowers, ants and a boat in bright colors. At the bottom is another canvas that looks as if it could be by another notable artist — maybe a reflection on oneself. But it's a Sasha original: a self-portrait in teals, blues and greens.

"She fought me to put it up," Snyder says. "I said, 'No, you have to put it up. It's important to have work of you.' "


Some of her favorite things


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