Peter Brant, left, a MOCA trustee and major art collector, hobnobs with… (Dave M. Bennett / Getty Images )
Where does art come from?
In the case of L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art, much of its collection has come from board members who donated or bequeathed key works or entire collections, or sold art to the museum at highly favorable terms.
Among the leading collectors on the current MOCA board is Peter Brant, who right now is art-rich but, at least relatively speaking, somewhat challenged for cash.
Bloomberg News reports that Brant, who was once estimated to be a billionaire, is now using part of his art collection as collateral for loans. Manufacturing newsprint is his main business, and the newspapers and magazines that buy it by the ton haven’t fared so well thus far in the 21st century, the Internet putting a crimp in their business model.
In a 2009 divorce filing, Brant listed assets totaling about $490 million. At the time, according to the Connecticut Post, court documents gave his monthly net income as $1.5 million. His expenses included $75,000 to $100,000 a year to maintain “Puppy,” a floral topiary sculpture by Jeff Koons that he keeps in the yard of his Greenwich, Conn., estate.
Brant also funds the Brant Foundation, devoted to showing contemporary art on a by-appointment basis in a renovated, 110-year-old stone barn on his Greenwich property. Its tax return for 2010 showed that he contributed $3 million to the foundation, and it spent $1.8 million on acquisitions, exhibitions and building-related costs.
Brant and his wife, supermodel Stephanie Seymour, subsequently patched things up and dropped the divorce proceedings, but the newsprint business hasn’t rebounded, leading to Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings in recent years for two of his companies.
Bloomberg reports that in raising money to recapitalize one of them, Brant pledged artworks to lenders including Sotheby’s, the auction house whose business includes not only selling art, but making loans that use it as collateral.
Bloomberg cited a document filed with New York state authorities, listing 56 pieces of art as collateral for the Sotheby’s loan. They include eight works by Andy Warhol, whose Interview Magazine Brant took over after the artist’s death in 1987; Brant also publishes the monthlies Art in America and the Magazine Antiques.
Other works backing the loan include three by Richard Prince; two each by Koons (but not “Puppy”), Jean-Michel Basquiat, Julian Schnabel, Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy and Kenny Scharf; one each by Cy Twombley, Ed Ruscha and Roy Lichtenstein; and a Dennis Hopper portrait of Warhol holding a flower.
Bloomberg reports that Brant, who joined MOCA’s board in 2009, separately has pledged other art holdings, including a Warhol said to be worth up to $35 million, as collateral for another lender.
A current exhibition at MOCA's Grand Avenue building, “The Panza Collection and Selections from Major Gifts of Beatrice and Philip Gersh, Rita and Taft Schreiber and Marcia Simon Weisman,” attests to what trustees’ generosity, goodwill and good fortune can mean to a museum.
Within months of its fall 1983 opening, MOCA was able to turn itself into an instant player in the international art world by striking a sweetheart deal with one of its board members, Giuseppe Panza di Biumo, a count from Milan, Italy, who faced an onerous Italian tax on art holdings.
Rather than incur the tax, he sold the museum 80 works by nine artists he’d collected in depth, including Mark Rothko, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Franz Kline, Claes Oldenburg and James Rosenquist. The group had been appraised at up to $15 million, but Panza, who was fond of L.A. and the fledgling museum, agreed to sell them to MOCA for $11 million and stagger the payments over five years, interest-free.
Beatrice Gersh, who died last year, was a founding MOCA trustee; she and her husband, the founder of a Hollywood talent agency, donated 13 major works to MOCA over the years, including pieces by Jackson Pollock, Cindy Sherman, Ed Ruscha and David Smith.
Weisman, also a trustee, gave MOCA Jasper Johns’ painting “Map” and upon her death in 1991 bequeathed a large collection of works on paper, valued at $8 million at the time, that included art by Johns, Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Sam Francis and Richard Diebenkorn.
The Schreibers, parents of longtime MOCA trustee Lenore S. Greenberg, were major L.A. collectors who helped guide Eli Broad as he moved into art collecting. Rita Schreiber outlived her husband, an MCA executive, and upon her death in 1989 left MOCA 18 works then valued at $60 million, including a huge painting by Pollock, one by Piet Mondrian and two human figures sculpted by Alberto Giacometti.
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