Visitors to Catherine Walsh’s New York City apartment would be forgiven for asking, “Do you have any place to sit?”
This story first appeared in the September 9, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
When it comes to the fragrance executive’s aesthetic, nothing is everything. “I am
an orthodox minimalist,” declares Walsh.
Her zeal for minimalism led her to take what she refers to as the ultimate art pilgrimage: a trip to the Chinati Foundation, the sprawling compound of 40 buildings in Marfa, Texas, amassed by artist Donald Judd. The remote location, which houses much of Judd’s work as well as other artists’ such as Dan Flavin, occupies 340 acres of land in west Texas.
For Walsh, that first visit 10 years ago has now become a thrice-a-year journey and a seat on the board of the Foundation. “I have this insatiable taste for buildings and art, even though it has never been part of my vocation,” says Walsh, who is senior vice president of American Fragrances at Coty Prestige. “I love to see the way they play off one another. Chinati is the Holy Grail of both those things.”
One of Walsh’s favorite spaces occupies two converted artillery sheds that house 100 aluminum works by Judd. “I have such great respect for Judd’s very detailed vision and his ability to carry it out. I’m a disciple of Judd’s in that way,” she says.
Today, Walsh is one of 15 board members who meet quarterly in various cities. Her role, she says, is to help realize the ambitions of the museum’s director, Thomas Kellein. “Many of the buildings in Marfa owned by Judd remain vacant,” she says. “But Judd had a vision for what he wanted all those buildings to be filled with. The director would like to see that vision come to life.”
Walsh, who studied art while attending graduate school at Ithaca College, finds solace in simplicity. “I have a specific taste for things and it’s very edited. That’s why I long for these types of environments, where it’s incredibly peaceful and there’s an unthinkable lack of distraction. You’re there and you can really focus.” It’s in the quiet moments that Walsh finds her best ideas to translate celebrities’ and designers’ fragrance concepts into commercial successes. “In my vocation everything is three dimensional, which is why I gravitate toward sculpture,” she says. “It’s not that I look at Judd’s work or Flavin’s work and say, ‘Let’s do a bottle like that.’ It’s not literal,” she clarifies. “It just provides me a peacefulness and a focus where I’m able to think.”
She muses for a moment before adding, “It’s this luxury of having space and quiet—I don’t get a whole lot of that in my life, so it totally relates to something I would like to have a lot more of.”