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MOCA Gets Major Gift-- Works by 10 Local Artists : Art: The Panzas, renowned Italian collectors, make a major donation of 70 items that will go on display in 1997.

October 26, 1994|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | TIMES ART WRITER

Giuseppe and Giovanna Panza di Biumo--an Italian couple who have acquired legendary status in the art world as extraordinarily dedicated collectors of advanced American and European art--have given Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art 70 works by 10 local artists.

The donation includes major sculptures by internationally known artist Robert Therrien, as well as work by Peter Shelton, who was recently the subject of a solo exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Other artists whose work was donated are Greg Colson, Jeff Colson and Gregory Mahoney, who have established themselves more recently, and Mark Lere, Roy Thurston, Lawrence Carroll, Ron Griffin and Ross Rudel, who are less well-known outside Southern California. The museum declined to disclose the value of the collection, but sources familiar with the artists' market estimate its worth in the low millions.

The Panza's gift is only the latest event in the collectors' longtime affiliation with MOCA. Giuseppe Panza became a trustee of the museum in 1980, during its formative stages, and a selection of light-and-space installations and conceptual works from the couple's collection was among eight collections on view in "The First Show," the museum's 1983 inaugural exhibition. The following year, the Panzas sold the fledgling institution 80 works of Abstract Expressionist and Pop art for $11 million, which form the bedrock of MOCA's collection.

"This magnificent gift complements our earlier acquisition from the Panzas," MOCA Director Richard Koshalek said. "The collection we acquired in 1984 represented New York and, to a lesser degree, Europe, but not California. This one represents a strong commitment to artists from Southern California.

"But most importantly," he said, "the gift focuses on the work of younger artists (who are all under 50). This is the kind of institution that needs to take this risk. We are very fortunate that there are two individuals, the Panzas, who are also willing to risk.

"MOCA must draw strength from the city and the creative individuals working in the city," Koshalek continued. "The best way we can do that is to show work of artists from Los Angeles, especially emerging artists and younger artists, and to add them to the collection. The Panzas' generosity has made this possible."

Giuseppe Panza said he hadn't purchased the works with the idea of giving them to a museum, but he has acquired far too many works by the 10 artists to display in his home in Varese, Italy. In making the gift, he said, he selected seven representative pieces by each artist that are better suited to the museum's exhibition space. Panza said he gave the works to MOCA because of his relationship with the museum and the art's connections to Southern California.

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Panza began collecting contemporary art in 1956, after inheriting his family's real estate and distilling business interests along with a substantial amount of money. He began making regular art-buying trips to New York in 1960 and soon added Los Angeles to his agenda, when he became interested in the work of Robert Irwin and other artists who were creating art from light and space.

In the past 38 years, the Panzas have built three collections: the first consisting of Abstract Expressionism and Pop art; the second of light-and-space, conceptual and Minimalist works (about 300 of which have gone to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York as a combination gift and purchase); and the works of relatively young artists from Los Angeles, New York and Europe. In each case, the Panzas purchased the works while they were affordable, before the artists achieved international renown.

"We are always looking for new artists and new art, which is no easy task," Giuseppe Panza said. The couple devote an unusual amount of time to the project, typically conducting thorough research, visiting studios, establishing long-term relationships with artists, looking at all their work and finally buying in depth.

"All my free time in the last 40 years has been devoted to art study," Panza said. "I don't watch television. I don't travel for tourism. My pleasure is to go to artists' studios."

"We never go to the cinema," Giovanna Panza added.

The couple say they simply seek quality and buy what they like, making no attempt to tell the history of contemporary art or to follow trends.

They were initially attracted to Los Angeles as "a new city where artists were making something different," Panza said, but their interest in the region's art has continued. They now visit Los Angeles twice a year for two weeks at a time, spending most of their time with artists.

"I know of no other collector who has made this kind of commitment to the work of artists from this part of the country," Koshalek said. "Artists from Southern California have found two individuals who are willing to support their work and support it in depth, and that's what an artist needs."

The Panza gift adds to MOCA's holdings of works by Shelton, Therrien and Lere, but provides the museum with its first pieces by the seven other artists, according to curator Paul Schimmel.

The donated works are currently in Switzerland, where they are being examined by MOCA's registrar, Koshalek said. The collection is expected to go on view in 1997 at the museum on Grand Avenue, in conjunction with an exhibition of the 1984 purchase. As he did in MOCA's initial exhibition of that acquisition, Giuseppe Panza will design the installation of the show.

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