An effort to place Count Giuseppe Panza de Biumo's art collection in the Southland has moved to UC Irvine, according to university gallery director Melinda Wortz. Negotiations between the celebrated Italian collector and a coalition of Southern California museums fizzled more than a year ago, but now a preliminary plan in is the works to house a smaller portion of Panza's cache--his collection of Light/Space works by California artists--on the Irvine campus.
"It's only in the planning stages," said Wortz, who estimates that $20 million must be raised to acquire the artworks, build a permanent facility and establish an endowment for the collection. She envisions a simple, two-story, 100,000-square-foot structure, on campus land currently allocated for a museum in the university's long-range plan.
Panza has visited the campus and will return in April for further talks, Wortz said. She hopes the university will reach an agreement with Panza for a long-term (about six-year) loan of the artworks while funds are raised. During the loan phase, the collection would probably be housed in rented industrial space, she said. At the same time, she hopes to establish a multidisciplinary research project based on the study of "perceptual" art.
Wortz has a long-standing interest in California's Light/Space art--works that often occupy whole rooms and confound perceptions of space through lighting or subtle alterations of physical boundaries. Panza owns works by such major Light/Space artists as Robert Irwin, James Turrell, Doug Wheeler, Bruce Nauman, Maria Norman and Eric Orr.
So far, Wortz said she has simply been involved in an education campaign to make university administrators aware of the importance of this school of art, considered by many experts to be Southern California's most important contribution to contemporary art. Armed with letters from museum directors, curators and critics, she is attempting to create a hospitable climate for an idea that is just now taking form.
"I don't think we are in competition with other organizations," Wortz said. "In the first place, most people don't understand this work (which often exists only in plans that have to be built). And in the second place, they don't want to bother with it."
Panza acquired vast amounts of American contemporary art in the '50s, '60s and '70s, installing some of it in his 18th-Century villa in Varese, near Milan. In recent years, he has turned from buying to selling and loaning art.
Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art purchased 80 Abstract Expressionist and Pop works for $11 million from Panza in 1984. (The final payment is due in June, 1989.) The collector is currently negotiating a loan of Minimalist sculpture to the new Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and a sister institution, the Museum of Contemporary Architecture (MASS MoCA), being developed in an old electric company building in North Adams, Mass.