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Dealer's Choices

An Art Collector Makes Way for an Expanding Personal Gallery

June 28, 1998|BARBARA THORNBURG

When it comes to collecting art, Tom Patchett is no slouch. Every room in his Westwood home is chock-full of sculptures and paintings displayed overhead and underfoot, on doors, floors and windows. A few of them clang, gong or glow, and one even plays middle C on the piano. Says Patchett, owner of Track 16 Gallery in Santa Monica: "Some people like landscapes hanging over the couch. That's not me."

Neither is Patchett one to treat his artworks like precious museum treasures. He prefers using them, incorporating them directly into his household. A decade ago, when he began collecting, Patchett ran out of space only six months after moving into a 5,500-square-foot condominium. With art in closets and hallways, he soon bought a neighboring unit, then a third. Total square footage: 9,000, just 3,000 less than his gallery at Bergamot Station.

Today, a limited-edition Robert Rauschenberg collage of corrugated cardboard, wood and paper serves as a door between the library and living area. "We broke through the wall to connect the condominiums," Patchett says, "then framed the space to fit the door so it would be functional." Nearby, a library window is hung with a Jody Zellen silk-screen on vertical blinds.

Patchett, who won an Emmy for comedy writing on "The Carol Burnett Show" and who, in addition to being an art dealer, now runs Smart Art Press, enjoys the interplay between his guests and his collection--in particular, Dennis Oppenheim's "Attempt to Raise Hell." The cast-aluminum figure clangs its head on a cast-iron bell at intervals of anywhere from 9 to 99 seconds when it's plugged in. Although the kinetic sculpture is handy for announcing dinner, Patchett acknowledges that the noise has been known to startle friends. "Wineglasses sometimes get thrown in the air," he says with a laugh.

The dining area also features a '50s Formica dinette set with brightly colored Fiesta dinnerware. On the floor, the words "hope," "faith" and "charity" have been woven into an eye-popping nylon rug by Carrie Leibowitz. Patchett loves this juxtaposition. To him, collecting 20th century Americana--Fiesta dinnerware, neon signs, Airstream trailers--is as valid as collecting works by blue-chip artists. "There's a thin line between fine art and Americana if it exists at all," he says. "I look at it all as art."

Suspended by a string above the baby grand piano is one of Patchett's favorite pieces: Larry Miller's tuxedo-sleeved plaster hand, which Patchett likes to lower to strike middle C on the keyboard. "When people ask if I play," he explains, "I can answer yes truthfully."

In the master bedrooom, Dan Flavin's light sculpture glows like a fluorescent fence beside a giant sink by Robert Gober. Along the windows, Burt Payne's upside-down marching band hats are planted with artificial sunflowers and Wim Delvoye's fuel canisters resemble delftware urns.

Elsewhere, the laundry room is reserved for "Alf" paraphernalia. At last count, there were more than 600 representations of the alien TV character Patchett helped bring to life with puppeteer Paul Fusco. As with any collector, Patchett confesses that he's still on the lookout for more.

Patchett's art collection has grown so vast, in fact, that more than 200 works kicked off an international tour at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art's La Jolla facility this weekend. About 80% of his home's contents will be traveling for the next two years. But don't think Patchett is left with an empty nest. "I have more things in storage," he assures.

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