But Hall was inspired by his grandmother, Rosalie, who lived through the Great Depression. According to Hall, Rosalie had a reputation for being frugal, always going to the bank to put something away. She consistently demonstrated the importance of saving money for a rainy day, and Hall absorbed her saving from an early age. Today he lives opposite the Morgan Library and Museum, but until he was 16, Hall didn’t even know museums existed. “There were no museums in Wakulla County,” he said. The family could only visit the museum in nearby Tallahassee on “Negro Day,” “which we never did because we didn’t have a car,” Hall continued.
A dedicated student, Hall was admitted to Yale’s high school summer program in 1969, where he discovered how far New Haven, Connecticut was from rural Florida. The Black Panthers had a headquarters in New Haven, and the city’s mayor, Richard C. Lee, spoke out against the Vietnam War and urged President Richard Nixon to bring troops home. This hotbed of political activity gave Hall his introduction to contemporary art. Swedish-American artist Claes Oldenburg, in support of student protesters against Vietnam, installed a 24-foot tall sculpture of a tube of lipstick, unraveling from inside a military tracked tank, at Yale’s Beinecke Library Plaza. Hall spent hours looking at Oldenburg’s work. It tormented his mind. Everything that was happening at Yale was just in the background. “It was so good, he said, and I didn’t even know such a thing existed. I thought art was just classic paintings in books.
Graduating from Bowdoin College in Maine in 1974 with a degree in English Literature, Hall was in debt, but he spent his time researching and reflecting, “building up a well of visual images that have since influenced what I collect,” as he said it. In 1982, he moved to New York and started working in finance, which brought him money for the first time in his life. He befriended Marvin Heiferman, who worked in the printing department of Leo Castelli, the dealer of artists like Warhol and Rauschenberg. In another sign of Hall’s foresight, he purchased two photographs of Nan Goldin from his 1985 series “The Ballad of Sex Addictionwhich documented the nocturnal and narcotic lifestyles of Goldin’s friends. He bought “Skinhead having sex, London1978″ and “CZ and Max on the beach, Truro, Massachusetts, 1976” (titles are self-explanatory) for $350 each. Individual works in the same series have since sold for over $65,000.