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Douglas Cramer Strikes His Santa Ynez Set

With his ranch and winery sold and his estate for sale, the New York-bound TV producer and 'disenchanted' ex-trustee of MOCA has put 22 sculptures on the block.

April 27, 1997|Suzanne Muchnic | Suzanne Muchnic is The Times' art writer

"We've had a few bad years, but I think the market has solidified, especially for very good work and work that hasn't been available or seen," he said. "All the pieces I'm selling were bought out of artists' studios or [at galleries] when they were first shown, or they were done specifically for the ranch. Short of--God forbid--a major downturn in the market, I think these auctions in May are going to be very good. I think it's going to be an exciting month."

Cramer grew up in Ohio and started his career in New York. "With a lot of reluctance I moved to California, in 1966, when that was what the business was about," he said. Now back in New York, he is indulging his love of the theater and is already entrenched at the Museum of Modern Art, where he has served as a trustee since 1993 and chairs the board's painting and sculpture committee.

MOMA, not MOCA, is his museum home now. He ended a 13-year tenure at MOCA last fall, rotating off the board in accordance with a policy enacted in 1993. Trustees now serve three-year, renewable terms and rotate off after six years. Although Cramer voted for the policy, he thinks it is "rather ridiculous" because major supporters can be lost, even though they are generally invited to return after a year.

The policy was enacted "to bring new blood on the board, give new people an opportunity to serve and provide trustees with a chance to assess their board life and see if they want to come back," said David Laventhol, chairman of MOCA's board and editor at large of Times Mirror, parent company of The Times. Four longtime trustees--Beatrice Gersh, Leonore Greenberg, Frederick Nicholas and Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs--have returned after taking a break, he said.

Founding trustee Eli Broad, who left MOCA and became a trustee at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art before the rotation policy went into effect, has declined an offer to return to the downtown museum. But Koshalek said that he hopes Broad will rejoin the board, and Cramer definitely will be invited back.

The tenuous relationship has compounded a sensitive situation regarding Cramer's gifts of artworks in conjunction with his move, however. He has given the Museum of Modern Art a triptych and a large black-and-white painting by Kelly, a Joel Shapiro sculpture and an Andy Warhol Campbell's Soup box. The Tate Gallery in London is receiving sculptures by Anthony Caro and Richard Serra. Works by Guy Dill and Peter Shelton are going to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

MOCA would seem to be a likely recipient of pieces being moved off the ranch. But no decision has been made as to which--if any--works will go there. Cramer said he is "disenchanted with certain aspects of MOCA" but declined to discuss the matter in detail.

The museum has been slow to respond to his offers, he said, and it has turned down some artworks. Like most museums, MOCA screens gifts to build a coherent collection, enhance its quality and avoid duplication, said Gersh, who heads the acquisitions committee.

"They finally gave me a list of some things they wanted. And hopefully I'll work something out," Cramer said. Meanwhile, he's looking at art in New York.

"The art world has gone through a few years where there was nothing very exciting happening," he said. "But I think a lot of artists who were a little stagnated are now really doing fabulous work. I recently bought another big Lichtenstein, a Joel Shapiro and I bought a Kelly last year. I just saw a show of David Salle's work that's opening at Larry Gagosian's, and I think he's doing the best work of his career."

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