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Art Collector and Philanthropist Weisman Dies

September 13, 1994|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | TIMES ART WRITER

Frederick R. Weisman, a self-made multimillionaire who amassed a fortune by distributing Toyota automobiles and spent much of that wealth on contemporary art and philanthropy, has died. He was 82.

Weisman died Sunday evening at his Holmby Hills estate after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, the family announced Monday.

A high-profile donor who gave huge sums to cultural and social organizations, Weisman lived to see his name emblazoned on museums, galleries and social service institutions from Los Angeles to Paris. During 1993 alone--as his health waned and his generosity hit its peak--his gifts of artworks and money amounted to nearly $20 million.

Pepperdine University in Malibu and Weisman's alma mater, the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, have art museums named for the flamboyant collector. Pop artist Claes Oldenburg's "Spoonbridge and Cherry," the engaging centerpiece of the Walker Art Center's renowned sculpture garden in Minneapolis, is a gift from Weisman.

The San Diego Museum of Art and the New Orleans Museum of Art contain Weisman gallery complexes as well as artworks donated by him. The new American Center in Paris, which opened in June in a building designed by Los Angeles-based architect Frank O. Gehry, was launched with a $5-million gift from Weisman.

Between 1975 and 1993, Weisman gave the Los Angeles County Museum of Art 34 contemporary American works, rare Japanese screens, scrolls and woodblock prints whose value has escalated five or tenfold. He was a longtime LACMA trustee.

In addition, Weisman amassed one of the nation's largest private holdings of contemporary art. It was not immediately clear what will happen to that eclectic private collection of about 800 paintings and sculptures, said Eddie Fumasi, curator of the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation. After several attempts to build a new institution failed, Weisman had hoped to turn his home into a museum displaying the works.

Weisman's $1-million donation in 1993 to the Venice Family Clinic, which provides free medical care to the working poor and homeless, funded an endowment and a challenge grant to purchase property for the clinic's Frederick R. Weisman Program of Psychosocial Services. Weisman also gave $1 million each to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles.

These monuments bear testimony to Weisman's desire to be remembered as more than "some rich guy who sits around," as he put it, and to set an example for the wealthy.

"I always regarded it a privilege to be able to support charitable causes," he said in a 1993 news release outlining his philanthropic activities. "Today I believe in that more strongly than ever, and I hope very much that more and more of our country's successful business leaders come to share that view."

Weisman's associates remember him as a dynamic businessman whose presence in the art world was marked by enthusiasm, independence and a need for recognition. He endeared himself to artists by helping them in lean years and following their careers, said Henry Hopkins, chairman of UCLA's art department, director of the UCLA/Armand Hammer Museum and Cultural Center and former director of the Weisman foundation.

Weisman was born on April 27, 1912, the second of Russian-Jewish immigrants William and Mary Zekman Weisman's three sons. William Weisman got his start in business as a newsboy but moved up to a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle as he acquired property in Minneapolis, including a hotel, a mercantile business and a bank.

Mary Zekman Weisman took her three sons to Southern California on summer vacations and moved to Los Angeles with the boys in 1918, when Frederick was six. She was a stickler for good education, Weisman recalled, and insisted on the best private schools, even if that meant sending her Jewish sons to Roman Catholic institutions.

After graduating in 1929 from Los Angeles High School, Frederick Weisman attended UCLA for a year but failed to apply himself to his studies. He transferred to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis the following year. Although he worked part time in a hotel owned by his father, he couldn't afford to finish school during the Depression, so he dropped out in 1930 and returned to Los Angeles.

Weisman loved to tell how he obtained a middle name--Rand-- during his college days: He plucked it from the Rand Building, Minneapolis' tallest structure, as a symbol of his high aspirations.

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