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Weisman: Hometown Boy Makes Very Good : L.A.'s Patron Saint of Art Considers His Philanthropy as He Travels Home to See New Museum

July 28, 1993|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | TIMES ART WRITER

MINNEAPOLIS — All four Frederick R. Weismans took a trip to Minneapolis over the weekend.

The first Weisman, a Los Angeles-based patron saint of art and social services, took off to see a new addition to his $20-million philanthropic program--the Frederick R. Weisman Museum, scheduled to open in late November in a flamboyant building designed by architect Frank O. Gehry at the University of Minnesota.

The second Weisman, a mega-collector who has amassed thousands of contemporary artworks and given away hundreds of them, traveled east to see the future home of about 50 pieces from his collection that he plans to loan to the new museum and donate at his death.

The third Weisman, a wildly successful entrepreneur who became a multimillionaire by risking $100,000 in 1970 on a 20-year franchise for Mid-Atlantic Toyota Distributors Inc., enjoyed a junket on Toyota's elegantly appointed Gulfstream jet, offered as a gesture of friendship three years after he sold his franchise back to Toyota, in accordance with a long-standing agreement.

And the fourth Weisman, the son of Russian immigrants William Weisman of Minneapolis and Mary Zekman of St. Paul, made a sentimental journey to his hometown and alma mater.

It was the fourth Weisman who emerged in private moments. "I wish my father and mother could be there," he confided while riding to Minneapolis in airborne luxury. "This is a dream come true. What could be better than having a museum with your name on it in your hometown, at your alma mater, right in the center of the campus?"

At 81 and finally feeling better after a long spell of ill health that he prefers not to discuss, Weisman is thinking about what he has done with his wealth and how he will be remembered. The death in 1991 of his former wife, art collector Marcia Weisman, along with the recent demise of his younger brother, retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Steven Weisman, and of Marcia's brother, industrialist and art collector Norton Simon, appears to have intensified Weisman's focus on his own philanthropic goals and the future of his art collection.

Despite donating or promising large groups of artworks to several museums, he still owns at least 700 pieces of contemporary art. Throughout the past decade, as he has made unsuccessful attempts to establish his own museum at Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills and other locations, the fate of his collection has been a frequent subject of inquiry.

Speaking publicly for the first time about his intentions, Weisman confirmed what has been whispered for the past couple of years--that he means to maintain the core of the collection in perpetuity in its present environment at Carolwood Place, a Mediterranean-style villa in Holmby Hills, where he lived from 1982 through 1992.

"Carolwood is not going to change," Weisman said. "The art will remain in the setting of a lived-in house, with family pictures and furniture. It will be run just like it is now, without disturbing the neighbors. We get about 100 tours a year, but they all come by appointment, they never stay more than an hour and a half and there are never more than 30 or 35 people at a time.

"It's amazing," he said. "We never run an ad. We never send out letters. It's all word of mouth, but we get requests to visit from all over the world."

Weisman is famous for buying art spontaneously on his travels, for mixing works by unknown artists with those of celebrated masters and for constantly rearranging works at Carolwood Place as he tries to squeeze in more and more pieces. He has filled in windows to make more hanging space, installed paintings by Ed Ruscha, Kenneth Noland and James Rosenquist on ceilings and built an annex to accommodate his collection.

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"Light doesn't stand still, business doesn't stand still and art doesn't stand still," he said. "I got involved with contemporary art because it is always changing, and if you move it around you see it in new ways." But the days of rotating displays at Carolwood Place are over, he said. The house is as he wants it and he will bequeath his art foundation with sufficient funds to maintain the building and the collection exactly as they are. "When I die, Carolwood will be well endowed. I think I can rest easy," he said.

Donations to museums also have brought him satisfaction, he said. Along with the Minneapolis museum, which was founded with a gift of $3.3 million, through the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation, several other institutions have benefited from his fortune. Another art museum named after Weisman popped up last year at Pepperdine University in Malibu, after the foundation made a gift of $1.5 million and a long-term loan of about $3-million worth of contemporary art. Weisman also has made large gifts of money and artworks to the San Diego Museum of Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art, Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

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