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Songwriter, wife give Hammer 60 drawings

April 18, 2003|Suzanne Muchnic | Times Staff Writer

The UCLA Hammer Museum has received a gift of 60 American and European drawings from the collection of lyricist Hal David and his wife, Eunice. The donation adds a trove of 19th and 20th century works by 50 prominent artists to the holdings of the museum's Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts.

"This gift really broadens and deepens our collection of drawings," Hammer Museum director Ann Philbin said. The Grunwald Center already has a 45,000-piece collection of graphic works, but 44,000 of them are prints or photographs. While the newly acquired drawings by a wide range of artists -- from Modernist giants Pablo Picasso and Fernand Leger to California painter Richard Diebenkorn -- significantly boost that part of the Grunwald collection, they also correspond to works amassed by the museum's founder, Armand Hammer, she said.

All the works in the gift will be displayed in a special exhibition that will open at the Hammer Nov. 14, then travel to the Portland Museum of Art in Oregon and possibly other institutions, Philbin said. The Hammer is publishing a complete catalog of the David collection with essays by Cynthia Burlingham, senior curator of the Grunwald Center, and Lee Hendrix, curator of drawings at the J. Paul Getty Museum, and entries on specific artworks by other scholars.

"We are Angelenos, and we wanted the collection to go where we live," Hal David said. "The idea of giving the collection to a university, not just a museum but a research center where people can study the work, was also thrilling to us." A 1969 Academy Award winner for his song "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," David has also created a string of hits with Burt Bacharach, including "Do You Know the Way to San Jose," "Walk on By" and "What the World Needs Now Is Love."

Another aspect of the Hammer that appealed to the Davids is its fairly small size, which led them to believe their collection would be less likely to get lost there than in a larger institution. "We thought they would treasure and appreciate the collection, as we do," Eunice David said.

The Davids, who collected paintings individually before their marriage 15 years ago, have built their drawings collection during the past 11 years.

"On our visits to museums, we both seemed to drift toward the drawings," Hal David said. Seeing a drawing that led to a painting reminded him of "the whole process of writing songs."

For Eunice, the attraction was "the feeling that a drawing was the beginning of something that had great potential."

They bought their first drawing, French artist Pierre Bonnard's "Standing Nude Looking in Mirror" (circa 1920), from Los Angeles dealer Bobbie Greenfield, whom they credit as their mentor. Eunice spotted their second acquisition, an untitled, undated abstraction by Arshile Gorky formerly owned by actor Vincent Price, at the L.A. shop where they went to have the Bonnard framed.

During the next decade, the couple built a collection with a strong French flavor, including examples by Romanticist Eugene Delacroix, Impressionists Edgar Degas and Camille Pissarro, sculptor Gaston Lachaise and Modernist Henri Matisse. Many Americans -- from realists Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper to Pop artists Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol -- are also represented.

The collection is notable for its quality and range, Philbin said. There are exploratory sketches and studies as well as highly finished pieces, conceived as independent artworks. Figurative images dominate, but they don't rule out abstraction. A wide variety of media -- graphite, pen and ink, chalk, watercolor, gouache -- are included.

This is the Davids' second major gift of art to UCLA. In the mid-1990s, they donated a collection of American Southwestern works to the UCLA Medical Center, where it is on display. And they are likely to continue buying and giving away art.

"We are collectors by nature," Hal David said. "I don't know what we'll do after this, but knowing us, we'll do something."

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