Driek and Michael Zirinsky stand in front of a painting

Sharing Art: A Glimpse into the Zirinsky Collection

Driek and Michael Zirinsky stand in front of a painting

Driek (left) and Michael Zirinsky stand in front of “New Moon” by Hung Liu in the gallery of Up Close & Personal.


Upon entering Up Close & Personal: The Body in Contemporary Art, viewers will encounter many variations of the human form. From full portraits to paintings revealing fragments of the figure, the exhibition examines the human body through the expressive lens of 60 artists.

These stunning works come from the renowned collection of Driek and Michael Zirinsky and are just a fraction of the couple’s collection.

For Driek, her love of art and collecting has roots in her family. Both her grandfathers and her father were collectors.

“My dad loved art and was always clipping things out of newspapers and magazines when he liked the design. He collected license plates, matchbook covers, stamps, all kinds of stuff,” she recalls.

In fact, her first artwork was a Dutch watercolor originally purchased by her father. The painting hung in her childhood bedroom until she left for college.

“When I went to college, I took it off the wall and down to the car when we were packing. My dad looked at me and said, ‘You’re taking that? Well, I guess it’s yours!’”

While she wasn’t thinking of collecting at the time, that watercolor is now one of more than 1,000 works in the Zirinsky Collection.

The Zirinsky Collection

Driek and Michael Zirinsky standing next to two sculptures

Driek and Michael Zirinsky stand with “Transform the World” (left) and “Untitled” by Judy Hill.

Both retired professors, the Zirinskys are based in Boise, Idaho. Their collection features a wide variety of works from regional, national, and international artists.

When considering a piece, Driek says it’s all about being grabbed by the work, both visually and emotionally.

“It’s the head, heart, and eye all interacting at the same time,” she explains.

It wasn’t until the early 1980s that she started getting more deliberate about the collection.

“I started thinking, ‘What is this all about? What am I doing?’ I started learning more about contemporary art, subscribing to art magazines, and going regularly to see art exhibitions.”

The couple would frequently attend gallery shows, personally meeting many of the artists whose work appears in their collection.

They typically have bought art from young artists early in their careers.

“So much of the art world is about buying for investment,” Michael says. That’s not the case for them.

“We don’t care if the artist has an exhibition record,” Driek says.

Instead, she is often drawn to pieces with a strong narrative, or a strong political statement. Then, after falling in love with a piece, she enjoys discovering more about the artist.

It’s only later that some themes or similarities emerge from the collection. For example, Mapping the Present at the Boise Art Museum featured a selection of works from the Zirinsky Collection by artists who use maps and mapping as part of their practice. Also, many of the artists are immigrants or have roots in more than one culture.

What’s next

Driek Zirinsky stands next to "Martha" and "Man Down."

Driek Zirinsky stands next to “Martha” and “Man Down.”

Moving forward, the Zirinskys say they’re turning their attention to finding good homes for some of their current works. For example, works from British artists have gone to the Yale Center for British Art in Connecticut. The Whatcom Museum will also receive new works from the Zirinskys for the permanent collection.

The Zirinskys intent to share their artworks with public institutions will enrich communities across the country and globe for decades.

As for those looking to start their own collection, Driek says to just dive in.

“You can buy work that you love for no more money than you might spend on a pair of shoes,” she says. “Don’t worry about what anybody thinks. You don’t have to go to New York, or even Seattle, to buy something really lovely.”

About Up Close & Personal

Curated by the Whatcom Museum Curator of Art, Amy Chaloupka, these works from the Zirinsky Collection explore the many ways we communicate with one another—through facial expression, body language, and more.

Chaloupka states, “In researching the artworks in this incredible collection, I am struck by the depth of empathy conjured by these artists, which is a unique tie that binds the work in this show. Centering the theme on and about the body naturally makes for deeply personal conversations, and I am excited to see how people connect with each work as they consider bodies outside their own.”

Visitors to the exhibition will notice three overarching themes: portraiture, narratives of the human form, and figure fragments.

To complement the exhibition, the Museum is hosting Artists X Artists at Old City Hall. Drawn from the Museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition explores intimate portraits of artists created by artists.

The Museum has previously shown work from the Zirinsky Collection in 2009 in Out of Bounds.