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Art Collector Panza Looking to Artists the Market Left Behind : Planning to Buy for First Time Since 1976, Count Would Concentrate on L. A. Works

November 26, 1987|BARBARA ISENBERG | Times Staff Writer

Art collector Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo expects to begin buying art again within the next year and will concentrate on works by Los Angeles artists. Panza, whose Milan-based contemporary art collection was appraised in June at about $28 million, has not purchased any artworks since 1976.

Panza received $2 million from the Museum of Contemporary Art in June as this year's scheduled payment toward his $11-million sale to MOCA of 80 Abstract Expressionist and Pop artworks. Panza and his wife Giovanna, interviewed Tuesday at MOCA offices, said they hoped to buy art by artists already in their collection and by lesser-known artists.

"We stopped buying for economic reasons," said the 64-year-old businessman. "Now our economic situation is improving and we are able to start to buy again."

But while other collectors push art prices to astronomical levels--culminating in the purchase this month of Van Gogh's "Irises" for $53.9 million at auction--the Panzas are thinking small. He expects to pay about $10,000 an artwork--"some more or less"--and will concentrate on those artists the market has left behind or not yet ensnared.

For one thing, work by "very good young artists" is generally less expensive.

"It is interesting to see how the market for art is very high, but there are many artists we feel have been left out of the market," said Panza. "Because the art market is crazy, it is possible to buy beautiful artworks that are reasonable in price."

The Panzas are clearly after more than bargains, however. Panza told The Times a few years before the MOCA sale that while he sometimes traded artworks for other artworks, he never sold anything.

"The rationale for his collection," artist Robert Irwin said at the time, "is the most old-fashioned, most traditional rationale of all-- la morte : You want to leave something after your death."

Panza's collecting is also spurred by passion, although the avant-garde art he buys reflects passions more of the mind than the heart.

"When we see new artists we believe very good, we have a strong wish to have their art," Panza said. "To discover something new is one of the most beautiful things about being a collector of contemporary art."

Another beautiful thing, of course, is that well-chosen new art can eventually become very, very valuable. Even after the Panzas' $11-million sale to MOCA in 1984, enough remains in their collection for Sotheby's this year to have appraised the more than 500 museum-quality contemporary artworks at just under $28 million.

New York dealer Leo Castelli, from whom Panza bought many artworks over the years, has said that Panza never paid more than $10,000 for an artwork, sometimes paying as little as $2,000 apiece for Rauschenbergs that today are worth $1 million or more.

It takes time for good art to appreciate, the Panzas say, both interrupting and repeating each other.

"The less-good art appreciates in five years," Panza said, his wife nodding in agreement, "but then it goes down."

Consider his experiences with works by Franz Kline. When he began buying Klines in 1956, says the soft-spoken, low-key Panza, "Kline was 10 times less expensive than Bernard Buffet. Now Buffet is 100 times less expensive than Kline.

"But when we started to collect, Bernard Buffet was judged a great master of the time. Nobody knew then about Kline." MOCA purchased all 12 of Panza's Klines in 1984.

So the Panzas spent part of the last two weeks here in search of the next Klines, visiting galleries and artists' studios, meeting with artists they knew as well as "some new young artists." They expect to also visit galleries and studios in New York during their stay there this week, but find that city's younger artists "less interesting" than those in Los Angeles.

While Panza will talk without pause about his dreams, hopes and plans to house his existing collection, neither he nor his 55-year-old wife appears particularly eager to discuss their next round of collecting. They are "thinking about" buying, he said, not yet actually buying. But they expect to decide what to buy once they return to Milan next week, and they expect to be back in the market within a year.

They may have $2 million they received in June from MOCA, but Panza said, "We'll see in the next six months how much money we have available to spend. . . . If I can sell off part of my business (real estate and industrial alcohol manufacturing), I will have money to spend. Otherwise, I will have to wait."

What will they buy?

Beyond saying that some of the artists are working in such traditional forms as painting and sculpture, while others work in "light and space," the Panzas declined to name artists or dealers. But the potential group includes "artists we know, in the interest of completing our collection, plus artists who are not yet famous but who we believe are good," he said.

How much will they buy?

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