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A golden state for art buyers

July 10, 2005|Diane Haithman

Although no one from the publication phoned him with the news, it probably came as no surprise to Los Angeles billionaire philanthropist and contemporary art collector Eli Broad to find journalists calling earlier this week about his presence among the Top 3 on ARTnews magazine's 15th annual list of the 200 most active players in the art market (although Broad and his wife, Edythe, were displaced from the No. 1 slot this year by New York investment banker Leon Black, with Greenwich, Conn., investor Steven Cohen in third).

On the other hand, the news that he was among the top 200 came as a "very nice" surprise to Blake Byrne, a retired television executive and trustee at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Last year, Byrne donated 123 works by 78 artists to MOCA -- the largest group of artworks given by a private collector in the museum's 25-year history. Byrne's inclusion on the list neatly coincided with the July 3 opening of a show called "The Blake Byrne Collection," which will continue at MOCA through Oct. 10.

This year's 200 includes seven Angelenos -- David Geffen and Michael Ovitz are also on the list -- and 15 California residents (although a spokeswoman for ARTnews notes that it's kind of hard to designate a primary residence for the superrich, what with all those villas in Tuscany and pieds-a-terre in Paris). And both Broad and Byrne believe that the presence of these local collectors on the roster further solidifies L.A.'s standing as an art mecca.

"London has had its moments, New York is very important, Berlin is there, but L.A. can certainly hold its head very high," says Byrne. "I don't know if other collectors would agree, but it's certainly the center of young artists in the contemporary world today. Ed Ruscha and John Baldessari are certainly two of the giants in the art world, and they are the ones who have been teaching the young artists." Says Broad: "I think the number of collectors we're going to have is going to increase, and I think that's great for public institutions. We are simply guardians of this work during our lifetime. It all ends up in public institutions."

Broad is the most powerful trustee on the board of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, having pledged $60 million toward a new gallery for contemporary art there. But it must be noted that he also remains the guardian of the secret as to whether his own collection will eventually be donated to LACMA, to an institution elsewhere in California -- or elsewhere, period.

Diane Haithman

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