Contemporary Home Embodies One Family’s Creative Vision

Top: A massive Yayoi Kusama sculpture anchors one end of the entry gallery. On the right is a Chuck Close portrait of Merce Cunningham, and the lamp on the left is by Martin Kippenberger. Bottom, left: Soundsuit by Nick Cave stands in the center of the living room, while a cozy niche is framed by a Martin Kippenberger painting displayed above some of the Nermans’ ceramic collection, and a Martin Puryear sculpture hangs on the right. Oktopus/Octopus, by Katharina Fritsch, is displayed in the vitrine. Bottom, right: At the entrance to the lower level, a Frank Stella painting, one of Lewis Nerman’s first purchases, hangs above a Cindy Sherman photograph. All photos by Aaron Leimkuehler

The exterior of Sue and Lewis Nerman’s white contemporary house, with its broad planes, crisp lines, right angles, and curved windows, foretells the high ceilings and clear light of the rooms inside. The sculpture by the main entrance by Mark di Suvero is a hint, too, of the art that the Nermans collect with curiosity, consciousness, and care.

The house was designed by the late architect Theodore “Ted” Seligson, who was also a fine art professor, to house and highlight the Nermans’ art collection. The collection was not as large as it is now, but they knew it would grow.

“We knew that we wanted a lot of wall space, and we wanted them lined with wood, so they could accommodate large works,” Lewis Nerman says.

Top: The foyer introduces, from the left, a Charles Ray Hand Holding Egg sculpture displayed on the pedestal, a Marlene Dumas painting, and a Antony Gormley artwork. Bottom: Encircling the main stairway to the lower level are a Robert Gober Ear with an Axe sculpture, an Ugo Rondinone mask, a neon work by Dan Flavin, and a Njideka Akunyili Crosby painting.

Nerman’s late father, Jerry, had a great eye for art. When the family had limited means early in Lewis Nerman’s life, Jerry would frame calendar art for their walls. 

Jerry Nerman and his wife, Margaret, had a passion for art that would grow, culminating in an outstanding collection in their own home. In addition, they expanded the area’s art community in 2003 by providing a significant gift for the construction of the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art at Johnson County Community College, which opened in 2007. 

Sue and Lewis Nerman have excellent eyes as well, and a passion for art that matches his parents. 

Top: In the living room from left to right: a Nam June Paik video and neon sculpture, an installation of figures by Magdalena Abakanowicz, a Kara Walker sculpture, and a Wangechi Mutu bust. Bottom: A vibrant El Anatsui tapestry and the Nam June Pak piece frame the doorway to the gallery.

The arched hallway that runs the length of the house introduces the home as a gallery. Before you reach the Yayoi Kusama sculpture at the end, you pass works by Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Marlene Dumas, Chuck Close, Charles Ray, and Anselm Kiefer, which are reflected in the gleaming black granite floors.

In addition to the breadth and depth of their collection, the most striking thing about the Nermans is the extent of both their knowledge and their passion about artists, their intent and their process. With each work, Lewis Nerman stops, directs the viewer’s attention to a detail of the piece, his finger hovering just above it, as he shares the artist’s story and recognition. 

Top: In the small family room off the kitchen, a joke painting by Richard Prince hangs above the fireplace to the right of Reader by Mark Tansey. Middle: Richard Tuttle’s Rough Edges 1 is above the console, and an oil painting by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is on the right. Bottom: Hanging in the entry to the kitchen and family room is an Ugo Rondinone wax lightbulb; Black Rain by Fred Wilson is to the right in the dining room next to a Malcolm Morley painting.

“Being collectors of contemporary art has been an enriching and inspiring experience,” Nerman says. “We try to have personal connection to the art and the artists if possible, and we are always considering how a piece is going to elevate the quality of the collection.” 

Beyond the Nermans’ passion for art, they are energized by the art community, both the artists and the collectors. 

In a sitting room just off the primary bedroom, on the left is a Kerry James Marshall piece and the lithograph series above the sofa is Toothbrushes II by Jim Dine.

“Contemporary art often reflects the spirit of our times, capturing the narratives of the society we live in. Art can stimulate you intellectually and open a person to interpretation and critical thinking. The social connection of being a collector can create opportunities to engage with other art enthusiasts by sharing in the exhibitions. Building relationships with artists, gallerists, auction houses, and fellow collectors can be rewarding and intellectually stimulating.

“My father always said, ‘The Nermans live by the three S’s—searching for the art, securing the art, and sharing the art.’ Art enriches our lives,” Nerman says. “We made a whole new set of friends in the art world, who we might not have met otherwise.” 

An Asad Faulwell painting in the forefront, and on the right is a James Rosenquist painting.
Two pieces by Richard Artschwager: Door II and The Cave (If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home Now).
Roy Lichtenstein’s Modern Bull #1-#6.
On the main level, Oedipus and the Sphinx by Hernan Bas hangs in a sitting room stacked with art books and the perfect place to read them.
Left: In the primary bedroom, a Titus Kaphar painting dominates one wall, and the bed is encircled with Picasso prints. Right: A glittering “plunger” by Liza Lou is most appropriately placed in the powder room.
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