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ART : THE COLLECTORS

Arty, crafty, dependable

Max Palevsky meticulously assembles a design trove to be given to LACMA.

December 14, 2008|Suzanne Muchnic | Muchnic is a Times staff writer.

As the conversation moves on to art, he has a matter-of-fact explanation for his support of LACMA. "Given my interest in art, it seems perfectly natural to be involved in local museums," he says. "Ultimately, we are going to give all of our Arts and Crafts things to the museum. It will be one of the best collections around."

The Arts and Crafts collection is one of several sharply focused donations of major significance that have come to LACMA, including Edward W. Carter and Hannah Locke Carter's Dutch paintings, Etsuko and Joe D. Price's Edo period Japanese scrolls and screens, and Robert Gore Rifkind's German Expressionist art. The museum believes that, thanks to Palevsky's generosity, LACMA already has one of the world's great holdings of Arts and Crafts material.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, December 16, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
Max Palevsky: In Sunday's Arts & Books, a caption with an article about Max Palevsky said the photo showed the art collector beside the work "West Southwest" by Al Held. The artwork was "East End" by Valerie Jaudon.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, December 21, 2008 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
Max Palevsky: A photo caption last Sunday accompanying an article about art collector Max Palevsky said he was standing beside the work "West Southwest" by Al Held. The artwork pictured with Palevsky was "East End" by Valerie Jaudon.

LACMA Director Michael Govan praises Palevsky's "pursuit of excellence" on behalf of the museum. "For Los Angeles, this is a huge legacy," he says. "One of the most important things anyone can do at the museum is to create a collection that is a destination. This is the kind of collection that people will come from around the world to see."

Arts and Crafts works, including furniture and a variety of decorative functional objects, are products of an aesthetic and social movement that began in late-19th century England. Reacting to the dehumanization of the Industrial Revolution, the movement emphasized the pleasure and beauty of handwork. Although the likelihood of a high-tech guru being smitten by such ideology may seem remote, Palevsky has often commented on parallels between his feelings about computers and Arts and Crafts attitudes about industrialization.

"Computers were originally intended to expedite work and solve serious problems, from space travel to record keeping," he wrote in one catalog. "Unfortunately, they have also become passive entertainment devices -- substitutes for interactions with the real world. Just as the Arts and Crafts movement took issue with the alienation of people from 'pleasure in labour' and the resulting loss of human creativity, I, too, oppose the depersonalization that comes from the hypnotic quality of computer games, the substitution of a Google search for genuine inquiry, the instant messaging that has replaced social discourse."

Still, as he tells the story, his discovery of Arts and Crafts was a shock. Drawn to Modern architecture and design in the 1940s, he had become a staunch aficionado of the clean, forward-looking style before his horizons abruptly widened in the 1970s.

"My first interest and continuing interest in architecture and design has been in mid-20th-century Modern," he says, recalling a trip to New York when he came across a small wood desk made by Stickley. "But then I was walking down West Broadway one day and I saw this piece in the window. I must have looked at it 10 times before I bought it. I had never seen anything quite like it. I was very impressed by the simplicity and the directness."

One purchase led to another, and in 1984 he began working closely with Bowman to build a collection that would go to the museum.

LACMA and MOCA

Palevsky's relationship with the Museum of Contemporary Art in its early days is a different story. In 1984 he tried to rescind a $1-million pledge in an argument over architectural control of the building designed by Arata Isozaki. Palevsky sued to retrieve the $500,000 he had paid and asked to be released from giving the rest. He didn't get his money back but eventually settled for a sum that was less than he had promised.

But although he has contributed generously to MOCA since the falling out, he has no formal ties to the museum that he helped to establish and declines to comment on its current fiscal problems.

At LACMA, he enjoys what he calls a mutually beneficial partnership with curators. "We call attention to things for each other," he says. "We provide a kind of critical facility for each other."

Palevsky's eclectic tastes and friendships with artists have led him to acquire a variety of Modern and contemporary art and Japanese prints. Paintings by French Modernist Fernand Leger and American Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein hang in his primary residence in Beverly Hills, and he has what he calls "the largest collection in the world by far" of paintings by Richard Lindner, a German artist known for boldly mechanistic, highly sexual images of women.

"Richard Lindner was a close friend," Palevsky says of the artist who died in 1978. "A friend in New York introduced me to him and we just hit it off."

Although the pace of Palevsky's collecting has slowed, he follows the art market and occasionally springs for something special, such as a recently acquired figure drawing by Austrian Expressionist Egon Schiele. "I think I got eight auction catalogs this week," he says.

At LACMA, it's the Arts and Crafts collection that has made his mark. But when asked how he wants to be remembered there, he says: "Just as somebody who contributed to the community. We all have a responsibility. To the degree that we are able, we should support the museum."

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suzanne.muchnic@latimes.com

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'The Arts and Crafts Movement'

Where: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd.

When: Ends March 8

Price: $12, adults; $8, students and seniors

Contact: (323) 857-6000 or www.lacma.org

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