During the past year, a number of collectors died after a lifetime of buying art and, in the process, altering art history. From Shanghai to Berlin, these collectors showed that their practices could be serious endeavors with long-lasting impact on the communities and institutions they supported. To hear about the impact of six collectors, ARTnews enlisted museum directors and fellow collectors to speak about their time with figures like Budi Tek, Heiner Pietzsch, and more.
Michael Govan on Budi Tek
Budi Tek, who died of pancreatic cancer at 65 this past March, was one of China’s top collectors. In 2018 he announced plans to launch a partnership between the Yuz Museum, his Shanghai-based private museum, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, making for a nearly unprecedented collaboration between institutions in Asia and the United States. He later expanded that partnership to include the Qatar Museums in Doha. Michael Govan, director of LACMA, recalls Tek’s infectious passion for collecting.
There are different kinds of collectors. Some have an art collection that sits in their home—it’s their treasure. Budi, on the other hand, was very oriented in his collecting toward showing it [to the public]. He made his museum to change people’s thinking, so he was not a collector who was acquisitive for his house or for his private consumption. With most of what he collected, he was thinking about how important it was for everyone.
At an early time, he sensed the importance of collecting Chinese art, so he is well-known for his collection. There’s another area of his collection that overlaps with that: works of great scale, whether Huang Yong Ping or Adel Abdessemed or the Rain Room. He wanted things that would be daring and spectacular for public consumption.
We planned to start a foundation together to try to launch a relationship between the West Coast and China, and build a collection together. It became too difficult with his illness, hardening US-Chinese relations, and the pandemic. But we opened our first collaborative show just weeks before everything shut down [in 2020], and the Yoshitomo Nara show [in 2021] was partly inspired by him. There’s a bit of tragedy and sadness in a patron’s dream that couldn’t quite be realized, but it’s beautifully inspiring.
Even in illness, against all odds, he was so enthusiastic. Even the cancer had a hard time defeating his enthusiasm. He had a relentless will to live.
Thelma Golden on Nancy Lane
Nancy Lane, who died at 88 in April, was a longtime board member at the Studio Museum in Harlem, to which she provided funding as she also built up her own collection with an emphasis on Black art, in particular photography. Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum, pays homage to Lane.
It’s hard to describe Nancy’s impact because it is so foundational to the Studio Museum in Harlem. She became involved in 1973, very early in our life, and held every major position of governance within our board structure. She was someone who, when she saw the museum had a need, would immediately lead that effort. But perhaps most significantly, what Nancy gave the museum in addition to her time, her commitment, and her generosity was her deep belief in the museum’s mission. She was a believer. Nancy was among a generation of collectors who did the work of stewarding the work of Black artists before museums took that work on, and it’s why she was so invested in the Studio Museum.
Her relationships with artists that she collected gave her so much joy. She supported artists at the beginnings of their careers—she was a wonderful champion of emerging artists. But she also was equally invested in mid-career artists, artists she’d known for decades. And she also was significantly involved with the continuing desire to write new art histories—histories and stories that had yet to be told—by engaging with artists. So much of that is what informed her involvement with not only the Studio Museum, but with the Museum of Modern Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the International Center of Photography; the Whitney Museum; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the Harvard Art Museums. She had this incredible sense of commitment to be engaged with museums as a way to champion Black artists.
She had this extraordinary career in the corporate world, but she committed herself not only to art institutions but also to civil rights and social justice organizations, serving on boards, chairing committees. I met her when I was a 19-year-old intern at the Studio Museum—I knew her my entire career. She was a mentor, a champion, a friend, a teacher, a fairy godmother. I’m one of thousands of people she supported in ways that were deep and profound.
Gary Tinterow on Fayez Sarofim
Fayez Sarofim, who died this past May at 93, was an investment adviser who amassed a significant collection spanning Coptic antiquities to postwar masterpieces. A longtime donor to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, to which he gave millions of dollars, he appeared on the Top 200 Collectors list
25 times. Gary Tinterow, director of the MFAH, muses on Sarofim’s impact on the Texas scene.
Like many collectors, his collection was a reflection of his identity and interests. He was born to a prominent Egyptian family, and ultimately he collected some Egyptian antiquities. His paternal grandfather founded the Coptic Museum in Cairo, which is the greatest museum of its kind. He acquired Coptic art and early Christian art. His European art largely reflected his Christian faith, and his American art is a reflection of his [chosen] homeland.
He essentially put together a survey of American painting from the late 18th century to the beginning of the 21st. It goes from Copley to Homer, Prendergast, John Singer Sargent, Twachtman, Bellows, Hopper, Robert Henri, Glackens; to early modernists like Marsden Hartley, Max Weber, Elie Nadelman; to Georgia O’Keeffe, John Marin, Robert Motherwell, Hans Hofmann, Lee Krasner, many works by Willem de Kooning, Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler; to contemporary works by Pat Steir, Lucian Freud, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg. The only other collectors in Houston history who collected on the same scale were the de Menils. He was an enthusiastic collector. I think he wanted to acquire art that was a reflection of the time in which he lived.
For the most part, he was a creature of habit. His approach to life was rather disciplined and predetermined. His art collection is where he allowed himself to act with spontaneity. He was extremely studious in his approach to investing, whereas he was spontaneous in his approach to art collecting. That’s where he allowed himself freedom.
James Snyder on Lily Safra
Lily Safra, a veteran of the Top 200 collectors list, died this past July at 87. A fixture on the New York social scene, she was known for her profuse and wide-ranging philanthropic endeavors, which included the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. James Snyder, director emeritus of the Israel Museum, remembers Safra.
Lily had an impressive appreciation for beauty, quality, elegance, and taste—in her homes, in her decor, and in the art and decorative arts with which she chose to enhance them. She really embraced the Israel Museum during the transformative renewal of its campus that was completed in 2010. This initiative enabled the museum’s Fine Arts Wing to showcase its uniquely comprehensive holdings of European masters through contemporary art in the Western cultural tradition, along with impressively broad holdings of African, Asian, Oceanic, and Pre-Columbian art. Lily funded, endowed, and named these galleries—in [her late husband] Edmond’s name and her own—with pride. Lily and Edmond also made singularly important gifts to the museum’s collections, ranging from the manuscript for Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity to Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild 849-3 (1997).
Lily was a quiet presence, and our visits together always had a remarkable intimacy—all the more striking because of the grandeur of the settings in which these visits often took place. Perhaps our most memorable conversation was her quiet call, after her first visit to the renewed Israel Museum and its new Lily and Edmond Safra Fine Arts Wing in 2010, to tell me that she felt so moved by the renewed museum’s beauty, she had just acquired as a gift Abstraktes Bild 849-3, a painting hugely important to Richter’s body of work and a signature addition to the museum’s contemporary holdings. An endorsing gesture like this could not have meant more. Nor could it have expressed more about Lily’s capacity for generosity and gratitude.
Maike Steinkamp on Heiner Pietzsch
Heiner Pietzsch, who died at 91 in September 2021, was one of Germany’s leading collectors and a transformative force at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, to which he and his wife, Ulla, donated their extensive collection of Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist art. Maike Steinkamp, a curator at the Neue Nationalgalerie, remembers the collector.
You can definitely say that the Pietzsch collection is one of the most outstanding private collections of classical modern art. Heiner Pietzsch started collecting in the ’60s, and from that time on, [he and Ulla] began a pretty top-notch collection based around Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. In their collection were works by Hans Arp and Leonora Carrington, as well as Alexander Calder, Max Ernst, René Magritte, Méret Oppenheim, Wifredo Lam, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Jackson Pollock, and Barnett Newman.
Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch have been associated with the Nationalgalerie for decades. In 1977 Heiner Pietzsch founded the Association of Friends of the Nationalgalerie, which is still the most important museum association in Germany. He worked on the board as treasurer, and both Ulla and he made it one of their lifetime goals to fill in the gaps of the Nationalgalerie with the acquisition of their art. Quite early, it became a fact that they would donate their collection to the Nationalgalerie, and it succeeded perfectly because we didn’t have that many Surrealist artworks.
What’s really special is a work by Ernst, Young Man with Beating Heart . In the Pietzsch collection are the original plasters that Ernst destroyed and reassembled back in France. This shows how the Pietzsch collection really complements the Nationalgalerie’s—we have the bronze and plaster [versions] of this great sculpture by Ernst. Pietzsch didn’t want to present his collection as his collection, but as a part of the Nationalgalerie.
Heidi Göess-Horten's Final Words
In June, billionaire Heidi Göess-Horten opened a long-awaited private museum in Vienna, revealing works by Basquiat, Rauschenberg, and others. Many of these works were kept from public view for years by Göess-Horten, who joined the Top 200 list in 2018. She died just days after the museum opened, at age 81. Shortly before her passing, ARTnews spoke with Göess-Horten by email for one of her final interviews.
ARTnews: You once said your greatest art-world pet peeve is that so much art ends up in storage.
Heidi Göess-Horten: I still believe that art should not be acquired to end up in storage. It is a fact, however, that there aren’t many art collectors in Austria who founded their own museums. For me, I knew after the first public presentation of my collection [in 2018, at the Leopold Museum] that I wanted to preserve the works for posterity and share a treasure with people that has been with me in my private life for many years and given me such happiness. That’s why I see my museum as a place of discovery, of sensuous experience, of the joy of art—because that’s what art has been and still is for me: a vital source of joy!
The Viennese art scene is already rich with world-renowned museums. What will your space add?
When I saw the first publication about my collection, I realized that it had reached a defined international profile, with a focus on classic modernism, ’60s abstract painting, American Pop art, sculpture, and contemporary art, including by artists who have only recently begun to attract the art world’s attention. I am convinced that my collection contains treasures—works by Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana, Francis Bacon, Jean-Michel Basquiat—that are unmatched in Vienna, in Austria, even in Europe.
How has your collecting changed over time?
My path of collecting is a very personal one—art played a vital role in my life from an early age. My father was a professional engraver, and in his spare time he painted landscapes and portraits. I dare to say that I inherited his interest in art and still work on my own paintings in my studio. This early contact with painting initiated the belief in me that art is an integral part of life. I started to systematically collect only after my first husband’s death, in the early ’90s, [and have been] advised by Agnes Husslein since then. I’ve always collected [by] trusting my gut feeling on one hand and Agnes’s advice on the quality of an artwork on the other.
After building my collection for about 35 years, first acquiring works mainly from auction houses, I got introduced to gallerists in the early 2000s. After my decision to build a museum for the collection, I also bought works that would only fit into a museum context, like the gigantic neon work by John Armleder or Constantin Luser’s 20-foot-high sound sculpture made out of trumpets and horns. The founding of the museum influenced my collecting in a huge way. Today, the collection has arrived in the present.