The Formans began collecting art in the 1950s and continued to collect for nearly 50 years. Before moving to Santa Fe in 1985, they lived in their native Chicago for 35 years and acquired contemporary art during their frequent visits to New York. One of the first works that the Formans purchased on such a trip was a small sculpture by Pablo Picasso. However, they soon became interested in non-objective art, and around 1960 were among the first collectors to purchase works by Robert Ryman, the famous Minimalist and Conceptual painter.
In addition to their purchases, the Formans received many works as birthday and thank-you gifts from artists with whom they had cultivated deeply personal relationships. Throughout their lifetime together, the couple amassed one of the most important collections of monochromatic art—richly nuanced paintings and works on paper that are primarily one color—in the world, including works by Josef Albers, John Beech, Burgoyne Diller, Marcia Hafif, James Howell, Joseph Marioni, John Meyer, Phil Sims, and Peter Tollens.
Natalie and Irving Forman also donated their personal archive, which includes letters of correspondence between the Formans and the artists in their collection, to the museum’s special collections in the G. Robert Strauss, Jr. Memorial Library. The Natalie and Irving Forman Papers reveal the couple’s acute sense for acquiring the art of their time, as well as the close relationships they built and maintained with many of the artists whose works they collected.