MODERN MASTER

07.14.14

Feeding Diddy’s Art Addiction: How Maria Brito Buys Art for Celebrites

Before he met Maria Brito, Diddy didn’t own any art. Brito took the musician to Art Basel Miami Beach, and a distinctively curated collection was born.

What’s it like shopping for art with Diddy?

Just ask Maria Brito, his (and other celebrities') personal art buyer, who has helped the musician build an impressive collection of modern and contemporary art. She even introduced him to Art Basel Miami Beach, the annual art fair turned celebrity hot spot that occurs the first weekend in December. “I don’t want to take credit for bringing him into the art world,” Brito told The Daily Beast, “but before me he didn’t really have any art.”

For Brito, working with Combs is both “fun and intense.” “He’s fast-paced and makes decisions on the fly,” she blogged for Elle.com of her experience showing the music mogul the ropes at Basel. “That’s how it was with one of Sean’s first purchases with me three years ago, a Tracey Emin neon light sculpture that says, ‘When I Listen to the Ocean All I Hear Is You.’”

Until Brito’s intervention, Combs’ collection amounted to the pieces included with various properties he had acquired, which Brito explained didn’t match his taste—black-and-white photography and graphics with typesetting. “He never had a chance for someone to explain things to him in a way that would engage his mind,” she said over coffee, “like how to look at contemporary and conceptual art.”

Since their meeting in 2010, Brito has helped Combs secure around 30 pieces for his collection, which includes works by some of his favorite artists—Tracey Emin, Ai Weiwei, Keith Haring, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. He has even taken an interest in discovering works directly, having acquired around 10 pieces on his own. “It’s hard for him to truly, truly fall in love with something, but when he does, it’s major,” Brito said.

For 38-year-old Brito, who was born in Venezuela, a career in the art world was never on the radar. Now she finds thrills in discovering the next big-name artist. “[My parents] never encouraged that I pursue a creative career,” she said. “They had a very South American mentality where you had to have a very dependable job—a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer.” Still, art remained an interest as the family traveled around the world, making friends with artists while building their own personal collection.

It was after she moved to the States to attend Harvard Law School that she began to fully immerse herself in the art world. By frequenting small galleries in downtown New York she met young, emerging artists and began acquiring their works while building a web of connections.

Soon she found that the artists she followed and supported went on to great success—an aspect she finds most rewarding as she’s never sold or flipped a piece from her collection. An early work she acquired by Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, whom she discovered in the late ’90s, has since skyrocketed in value. “I always go after things like that,” she said. “Not because I want to flip the works [for profit]…but seeing that artist get really far.”

Realizing her talent, Brito abandoned her position at one of New York’s prestigious law firms and started her own consulting business, Lifestyling by Maria Brito, offering her services to those who don’t have the time or expertise to find great works of art. Within a year, she had signed on Combs and Gwyneth Paltrow, as well as celebrity fitness guru Tracy Anderson, as her clients.

In contrast to the public shopping sprees she shares with Combs, Paltrow—whose taste ranges from street art to photography—tends to be a lot more private, preferring personal visits to artists’ studios over trips to highly publicized art fairs. “She’s always hands on and really knows what she wants,” Brito described of the few times she’s worked with the actress. “She’s always very open to learning and knowing new things, which I appreciated about her.”

“He never had a chance for someone to explain things to him in a way that would engage his mind, like how to look at contemporary and conceptual art.”

In addition to art consulting, Brito also assists clients with complete decorating overhauls. Such was the case with Anderson, who needed to transform a newly purchased apartment in Los Angeles in under 48 hours—a challenge Brito readily accepted.

Enlisting Anderson’s assistant as a guide, Brito spent a full day scouring flea markets and furniture stores, relying on her intuition to make snap decisions. “It was like an extreme lifestyle makeover on speed,” Anderson told the The New York Times. “Maria can size people up really quickly. She can find out what hopes and dreams they have.”

A portfolio of A-list celebrities means Brito has a great reputation. A recent project in the Hamptons was full of “very bold choices...I feel that when a client puts that amount of trust in me, I am at a higher level of responsibility to deliver something very special.”

She’s even decorated for the online art market, Artspace, using the company’s own signature edition prints to adorn the white walls of their newly acquired loft space in Manhattan’s Financial District. She used limited edition fabrics used by artists, such as Sarah Morris’ geometrics and Rob Pruitt’s panda prints.

Brito’s own collection is full of both emerging and established artists she has followed since early in their careers. Three prints by New York-based Mickalene Thomas, who creates elaborate, graphic works inspired by history and pop culture, are among her most treasured pieces, which also includes a piece by Brazilian street artist duo Os Gêmeos, who has since gained representation from the prominent Lehmann Maupin Gallery.

While her collection has become “very overwhelming at this point,” her husband, she says, is very adamant about not having storage. “Whatever we have is hanging on the wall,” she says, smiling. “So at this point, the ceiling is game.”