Beatrice and Phil Gersh look over "Cubi III," an aluminum sculpture… (Los Angeles Times )
Beatrice Gersh, a distinguished art collector and patron of the arts in Los Angeles for more than half a century who played a significant role in the founding of the Museum of Contemporary Art, has died. She was 87.
Gersh, the widow of Hollywood talent agent Phil Gersh, died Sunday of natural causes at her home in Los Angeles, said a family spokeswoman.
Gersh and her husband, who died in 2004, began collecting art in the 1950s and were among the first collectors of modern and contemporary art in Los Angeles.
The couple had been involved with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and other art institutions engaged in contemporary art before Beatrice Gersh joined early supporters in the founding of the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1979.
"She was among the most long-standing and deeply dedicated trustees of the Museum of Contemporary Art," said Paul Schimmel, chief curator of the museum. "Bea played a critical role not only in the founding of the museum, but she brought many of the most significant patrons to the museum.
"She set a very important example through her support of the museum and its exhibition program and through the exceptional generosity of donating works of art of the highest quality that formed the foundation of MOCA's world-renowned collection of contemporary art."
Gersh and her husband donated 13 important pieces from their collection to the museum.
They include the early drip painting "Jackson Pollock Number 3, 1948" and David Smith's 8-foot-tall stainless steel sculpture "Cubi III"— as well as works by artists such as Edward Ruscha, Cindy Sherman and Susan Rothenberg.
"The public would not be able to have these works if it hadn't been for the generosity of Bea," Schimmel said. "Most important for me, Bea brought a sense of pleasure and delight and curiosity and a real excitement to the appreciation and acquisition of contemporary art.
"She was forever stunned by the impact that works of art could have on her personally, and it was infectious."
In 1990, during MOCA's exhibition of 45 pieces from the Gershes' collection, Beatrice Gersh told The Times, "Collecting has enriched our lives. Art is not a commodity. It's something that gives great pleasure because of its quiet beauty, which can take many different forms."
In 1994, Gersh received the museum's first Distinguished Women in the Arts award. And in 2002, "Airplane Parts," a major sculpture by Nancy Rubins that is displayed on the plaza at MOCA, was purchased in her honor.
Gersh, whose love of the arts included classical music, also was a founder at the Music Center and was a member of the Blue Ribbon, its women's support group, since 1979.
"She was a treasure who will be deeply missed for her devotion and loving, generous friendship to the Blue Ribbon and the Music Center," Constance Towers Gavin, president of the Blue Ribbon, said in a statement.
Born in Los Angeles on March 3, 1924, Gersh attended Stanford University and then USC, where she earned a degree in history and where she briefly taught history. She met her husband in 1944 when he was on leave from the Army in Santa Barbara, and they were married in 1945.
Gersh is survived by her sons, David and Bob; her brothers, Charles and Leon Aberle; and five grandchildren.
A funeral service will be held at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary, 6001 W. Centinela Blvd., Los Angeles.