In the past 12 months, the art world lost a few collectors who effectively charted a new path. From Los Angeles to Beirut, these collectors spurred others to begin buying art and showed how, in doing so, one could uphold artists that would go on to be written into history. To hear about the impact of seven collectors, ARTnews enlisted museum directors and fellow collectors to speak about their time with figures like Eli Broad, Hans Rasmus Astrup, and more.
Solveig Øvstebø on Hans Rasmus Astrup
Hans Rasmus Astrup, who died at 82 this past April, was Norway’s foremost collector, the owner of major works by Jeff Koons, Christopher Wool, Elmgreen & Dragset, Torbjørn Rødland, and others. He was on the Top 200 Collectors list from 1992–2020. Solveig Øvstebø, director of the collector’s family museum, the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, reflects on Astrup.
Hans Rasmus was incredibly generous and inclusive. He was a really important part of how I got to learn about contemporary art. As a collector, he took risks, and he was very open. I think the interest in collecting came very much when he was in New York. He lived there for a while and got to see a lot of art. But he started first and foremost by collecting Norwegian artists. He followed them loyally. We’re going to do a show next summer of Synnøve Anker Aurdal. He collected beautiful textiles by her that not many people were buying at the time. When he died, I got so many letters from Norwegian artists about what he had meant to them personally and how he had followed up and supported them. He also collected established artists from the beginning, like Jeff Koons and Dan Colen, but he was not just a follower, making acquisitions that were safe, market-wise. He also wanted to have a platform for younger and less established voices.
In the ’90s, the museum was more ambitious than what you could see elsewhere in Norway at that time. It was like a little jewel in Oslo, a place where you saw his collection as well as exhibitions of new work by artists. When it moved into its new Renzo Piano building, it continued to have a dual role. The museum and his collection are basically a gift to the public. The museum is now an independent entity where the director determines the vision and program, and reports to an executive board. Hans Rasmus opened the door to a more international dialogue about art, because he created a sort of bridge from Norway to what was going on elsewhere in the world.
Joanne Heyler on Eli Broad
With his extensive art holdings and vast wealth, Eli Broad, who was on the Top 200 Collectors list each year from its launch in 1990 until his death earlier this year, transformed the Los Angeles art scene and inspired many others to collect. Joanne Heyler, director of Broad’s namesake L.A. museum, remembers the collector.
Not long after I’d been hired as a very green assistant curator at the Broad Art Foundation, on an afternoon sometime in 1989, I was asked spontaneously to join another staff curator and Eli to visit galleries locally. Happy to get away from typing up letters or whatever else I was doing that day, I remember embarking on a dizzying number of stops around town, feeling a little carsick in the backseat but hanging in there because it was exciting to be a part of this. Everyone who joined Eli on an art-viewing outing has their stories of endurance, of hoping for a break for food and drink, or a spare minute to breathe, and those hopes were almost always dashed.
On this day, Eli was characteristically efficient at each visit: no small talk with the gallerists or even among us. But as I later came to understand was typical, there was that moment when he would slow down. This time, we slowed down when we stopped at a Santa Monica gallery to see a new work by Barbara Kruger, Your body is a battleground (1989). He paused and took it in. Little did I know how profoundly that work would figure in the future at the Broad museum, and the level of cultural fame it would achieve as a lasting emblem of our culture and activism. Barbara has often said she did not have many collectors buying her work back then, but Eli bought in depth. Your body is a battleground has been on near-continuous view since the Broad opened in 2015, and was a visionary acquisition.
Los Angeles is the Broads’ adopted hometown. It was also in Los Angeles that the Broads—Edythe at first, and then Eli—became interested in collecting art together after moving to the city from Detroit in 1963. As a civic leader and someone many referred to as L.A.’s “power broker,” Eli had a strong vision for this region and left an indelible imprint on it during his lifetime. Before most others, he saw that L.A. could become—with the right support and leadership—a place with just as many great cultural institutions as any other world capital. Particularly in the 1990s and 2000s, he was determined to build up Los Angeles’s arts institutions.
Eli always said collectors are just the caretakers of art, that ultimately art belongs to everybody. For all his toughness, he firmly believed that public life is better with art, that “you can’t take it with you,” and that artists offer an irreplaceable and uniquely compelling lens onto our collective social issues. I believe that’s why there is so much art in the collection about injustice and oppression, and why, instead of creating a temporary showcase, he left behind a museum that will last—and evolve—long past his lifetime and far into the future. He set an example of sustained dedication. His actions, his tenacious work on behalf of L.A.’s cultural scene, showed he just cared—and cared deeply—about urban life and the arts. We are incredibly fortunate to have a museum and collection with which to continue to embody and express that care.
Michael Ovitz on Douglas S. Cramer
Douglas S. Cramer, who died at 89 this past June, was a television producer who helped stimulate a collecting scene in Los Angeles during the 1970s, not least as a cofounder, in 1979, of the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Cramer was a Top 200 Collector between 1990 and 2008. Michael Ovitz, who is listed on the Top 200 and served on the MOCA board alongside Cramer, remembers his fellow collector.
Doug was a unique guy in the entertainment business. He was eloquent, sophisticated, and very cultured in a way that most people in the business weren’t. Doug collected Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, Ellsworth Kelly—a lot of the New York artists from Leo Castelli. Doug was collecting things that only people in New York collected.
There weren’t many collectors in L.A. at the time, and Doug was way ahead of the curve. He gave a lot of psychological backing to those of us who were just starting out collecting because it gave us something to look at. It was really something we hadn’t seen before. Doug was very close to a friend of mine, Barry Lowen, who also had a phenomenal art collection. They were really out in front with the New York School artists.
He had dinners at his house, where we could see things that he had purchased. They were fun and stimulating, and the art was beautifully installed. It was just an extension of a guy who was tasteful and cultured. He was a wonderful person.
Christophe Cherix on Herman Daled
Herman Daled, who was listed among the Top 200 Collectors from 1990–’97, bought works by key Conceptual artists in depth. In 2011, he gave 223 pieces from his holdings and his archive to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in an acquisition that Christophe Cherix, the institution’s chief curator of prints and drawings, oversaw. Cherix remembers the collector, who died in November 2020.
Herman Daled was from a generation of which I’m not so sure there are many left. He built his collection with a desire to understand the work of the artists he lived with. I think for Herman, collecting was as much [about] supporting artists’ work as it was about acquiring it. He never lived with his works. It’s very important to think about how, with conceptual art, there is no passage of ownership. Does the work still exist? That’s a question Herman would often raise.
He lived in this extraordinary 1920s house in Brussels, and it was empty, so you would visit him, and you would not see art on the walls, you’d see Herman! It was really through language and a relationship with artists that he would live with his collection, rather than getting visual pleasure from it. He felt that, when you declared an object beautiful, it was because you’d already seen an object similar to it in the past. What he really wanted from art was a different perspective—something that would challenge him, make him think. One of the defining moments of his life was when he came across the work of Marcel Broodthaers. (I organized an exhibition of Broodthaers’s work at the Museum of Modern Art following the acquisition of his collection.) Herman met Broodthaers extremely early on, in ’66, and throughout his life collected the artist’s work.
Herman’s collection added to our holdings key examples showing the emergence of Conceptual art. Before that, you couldn’t even mount an exhibition of Conceptual art without loans from Herman. He had some very early works—Broodthaers, but also Dan Graham, from whom he bought an entire exhibition in the ’70s in New York. When Herman agreed to show that collection at the Haus der Kunst [in Munich in 2010], it was the first time that it came out of storage. It was extremely impressive. Collections are sometimes more than objects. They sometimes add a great deal of knowledge. He really built something [that] was more than a collection. It was almost like a chapter in the history of art.
Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi on Ramzi Dalloul
Ramzi Dalloul, who died this past March, amassed a world-class collection of Middle Eastern art. He had a singular vision and a passionate belief that art could educate and aid in solving the world’s most pressing issues. Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, who appears on the current Top 200 and was a friend of Dalloul, remembers his fellow collector.
Ramzi Dalloul was full of life. He must have been in his late 70s when we first met, but you felt he was in his 50s. I first met him in London eight or nine years ago. A part of me was a bit in awe of him and slightly intimidated. He was someone I looked up to—I was afraid to approach him, but he was very easygoing. He made me feel at ease. Our relationship developed over phone calls, with sporadic meetings every now and then.
He collected ideologically. He would buy extensively by an artist he liked. He would buy numerous works. It wasn’t uncommon for him to go to an exhibition and buy everything, like he did with Kamal Boullata and [at] an exhibition at Berloni Gallery in London [in 2015]. He was a huge champion of Palestinian art and art from the Arab world in general. He saw that art could be a way to offset the significant setbacks that the Arab world has experienced over the past half-century, from 1967 until today, with the loss of territory in Palestine, Egypt, Syria, the West Bank, and Lebanon. He felt that he could rebalance the loss of morale we felt through art. It was something we could all connect to. When Arab nationalism died with the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1970s, he felt that art and culture could be a way to bring back the Arab world, especially around the cause of Palestine and Palestine-related art. He would go to Iraq or to Morocco, and he would buy such works. In this way, he would show the solidarity of the region.
My collecting practice developed in parallel with his, so it wasn’t directly influenced by him but it was definitely encouraged by him. If somebody is buying the same kind of work as you, you feel there’s a value attached to it. Dr. Ramzi was very pinpointed—he would identify a work, go for it, and buy it, almost no matter what. That was something I couldn’t afford to do myself.
One time, he called me about a Gibran Khalil Gibran painting that was selling at Bonhams. He said, “I need a work by Gibran Khalil Gibran—the Lebanese will never forgive me.” He joked about it, and me, I of course deferred to him because of his age. I didn’t bid on it. I wouldn’t accept this from many people, but I accepted this from him for two reasons: because he was older, but also because he had an interesting logic for why he wanted this work. It wasn’t like if some other collector called me and said, “I like it, and I want it.” He said, “I want to build a museum in Lebanon, and I need to anchor it with a strong work by Gibran Khalil Gibran.” He won me over with logic.
Gabriele Knapstein on Erich Marx
Erich Marx, who was one of the Top 200 Collectors from 1990–’96, significantly augmented the holdings of Berlin’s public museums by donating to them key works by postwar artists. Among his many beneficiaries was the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin, which received pieces by Joseph Beuys, Robert Rauschenberg, Anselm Kiefer, and many others. Gabriele Knapstein, Hamburger Bahnhof director, remembers Marx, who died in September 2020.
Mr. Marx, together with some other collectors in Berlin, was one of the founding members of the Friends of the Nationalgalerie [a group of patrons who support the city’s public institutions]. He was a businessman, so he knew what he wanted. From the very beginning, he and his adviser Heiner Bastian had decided that they would go for artworks that would be part of the museum’s collection. He decided to start with what he thought were the important contemporary artists of his generation.
Marx went for works by Cy Twombly, Joseph Beuys, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol. A few years later, he added Anselm Kiefer. He really collected them in-depth. In the later years, Marx and Bastian added work by younger artists to the collection. The cooperation between Marx and Beuys is a very big part of our collection. Marx also supported him in the production of major works—for example, Unschlitt/Tallow (Wärmeskulptur auf Zeit hin angelegt) [Heat Sculpture Designed for Long-Term Use, 1977], the work Beuys produced for Skulptur Projekte Münster, and 7,000 Oaks . So this was an especially close exchange between the collector and an artist.
It was a decision to collect major works by these four or five artists, and a decision to collect not just paintings or smaller pieces that you could have in your private house. In really focusing on a few major artists and collecting them in depth, he also gave an example to younger collectors.
Neal Benezra on Norman Stone
Norman Stone died this past April at age 82. A psychologist and philanthropist, he held a place on the Top 200 Collectors list from 1995–2019. Neal Benezra, outgoing director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where Norman and his late wife, Norah, were longtime patrons and trustees, recalls the collector.
Norman was a marvelous collector of contemporary art and a bon vivant; but conversely, he was also very serious and thoughtful. He earned a doctorate in psychology and volunteered for many years as a psychotherapist in a mental health center in San Francisco. He had a remarkable range of interests and passions.
Norah and Norman Stone created an extraordinarily personal collection based on their passion for meeting artists and engaging deeply in their studio practice. They loved to be challenged by advanced ideas, and their collecting was based on a deeply held belief that contemporary visual culture should challenge convention. Some of my warmest memories of Norman and Norah revolve around annual trips that together we organized for collectors and donors to the museum. The Stones were fixtures on those unforgettable trips, and we traveled together for years, visiting every continent on the globe.
Norman and Norah committed many, many works to the SFMOMA collection through the years. Works by Joseph Beuys, John Baldessari, Jeff Koons, Robert Gober, and so many others are among the most important in our collection. Their legacy at SFMOMA and in our city is profound.