COVER STORY : HOLLYWOOD’S Art Connections : Where actors, agents and movie and TV executives meet, art is the topic. Whether for love of art or the limelight, celebrities have become big collectors

<i> Barbara Isenberg writes about the arts for The Times. </i>

No doubt about it.

In Hollywood, art is the scene. It’s what industry people discuss over pasta checca and seared ahi. It represents beauty, wealth, passion, power, culture, status and celebrity. It’s about deal-making and high-rolling. The players are glamorous. So is the game.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. June 16, 1991 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 16, 1991 Home Edition Calendar Page 95 Calendar Desk 2 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
To put an end to a canine identity crisis: The Labrador at right is named Amber. She was misidentified as Fly in the caption accompanying a photograph of Fran and Ray Stark’s sculpture garden in “Hollywood’s Art Connections” (May 12). Brice is still on the left.
PHOTO: Amber and Brice

From Fran and Ray Stark’s museum-like sculpture garden to the beginning photography and print collections of young agents and producers, movie and TV people are involved in the art world as never before.

Many contemporary art dealers here estimate that entertainment industry people represent at least 25% of their buyers. Santa Monica-based Fred Hoffman says his gallery alone has done business with more than 100 people in the entertainment business the last two years.


“Where there is affluence, some level of leisure time and the motivation for extending one’s perception, it’s a normal process to get involved with art,” says New York dealer Arnold Glimcher. “People in film and the dramatic arts in New York are also involved in collecting. Artists stick together.”

They have the money, often paint or sculpt themselves, enjoy the social cachet and hedge against future unemployment. Advisers and dealers line up to provide advice, and their lawyers often buy from the same people. And if you’re going to keep an eye on your investments and financial future, it’s probably more fun to talk art with dealers and artists at DC-3 or 72 Market Street than to invest in stock or real estate deals.

Celebrity art collectors regularly join insurance, retailing and banking executives on Art and Antiques’ annual list of the 100 top U.S. collectors. This year’s list, published in March, listed Diandra (Mrs. Michael) Douglas, Madonna, Steve Martin, Andy Williams, Oprah Winfrey, super-agent Michael Ovitz, and producers Douglas Cramer, Joel Silver and Ray Stark. (Bill Cosby, David Geffen and Barbra Streisand are such regulars that the magazine even explained why they weren’t on this year’s list.)

Because many of these people keep low profiles outside their immediate circles, nobody knows for certain how many collectors wear down paths between the studio and gallery rows on Colorado Boulevard in Santa Monica or 57th Street in New York. But interviews with dozens of collectors, dealers, artists and others indicate between 20 and 30 important, multimillion dollar collections--and hundreds of smaller ones--are being amassed locally by industry patrons.

‘It’s a company town,” says artist De Wain Valentine, “and the movie business is our company.”

About 25% of the lenders to the County Museum of Art’s coming exhibition, “Monet to Matisse: French Art in Southern California Collections,” are somehow connected to the entertainment industry, says the show’s co-curator, Judi Freeman. Elizabeth Taylor is lending her Van Gogh, Stark’s Monet painting is on the catalogue’s front cover and songwriter Billy Steinberg’s Matisse vase is on the back cover.

Stark, Geffen, Martin and producer David Wolper are all on the County Museum of Art board; all have made or promised gifts to the museum, while Martin and Geffen have each contributed enough money (about $250,000) to have galleries named after them. TV producer Douglas Cramer is currently president of the Museum of Contemporary Art, and last week Ovitz hosted a major MOCA fund-raiser at Creative Artists Agency.

“Without the industry, MOCA would have had trouble coming into existence,” says the museum’s director, Richard Koshalek.

“No doubt about it.”

Art collecting is becoming the thing to do. Nearly half of the people listed in ARTnews’ 1991 roster of the top 200 collectors weren’t actively collecting in 1980. Maurice Tuchman, senior curator of 20th-Century art at the County Museum, estimates there are probably 20 times as many collectors in America today as 20 years ago.

Many of them are in Southern California, where industry interest has both profited from and contributed to the city’s recognition in the ‘80s as an international art center. Besides the presence of the J. Paul Getty Museum and Norton Simon Museum heralding art of the past, contemporary art has come of age here. Collectors and dealers alike point to the founding of MOCA, the expansion of the County Museum of Art, a gallery boom.

“I think it coincides with their spiritual ideology,” says consultant Molly Barnes, who helped put together collections for producer Norman Lear and others. “The museum and gallery have replaced the church as a place for people to meet, mate and date. They look to art for spiritual answers as well as a way to express themselves and be in .”

Edward G. Robinson spent Matisse’s 70th birthday with him in Paris, and so do today’s top collectors mix with today’s art stars. Roy Lichtenstein, for instance, says he “almost always” socializes with industry people when he’s in town. Producers and agents regularly entertain prominent New York-based artists and dealers at their homes or trendy restaurants, while local dealers cater elegant meals in the intimacy of their galleries.

“The artists are as interested in TV and movie stars as the other way around, which I find is very healthy and fun to mesh,” says producer Cramer.

Robert Rauschenberg and Gregory Peck met at a screening at Norman Lear’s house not long ago, for instance, and Peck later stopped by Gemini G.E.L. to watch the artist create new prints. “It was nice for both of them,” says Gemini co-founder Sid Felsen. “I think Bob was thrilled that Gregory Peck was here watching him, and I think Gregory Peck enjoyed watching Bob work.”

TV executive and art collector Scott Spiegel’s memorial service was at Hoffman’s gallery, and dealer Irving Blum’s recent wedding reception was at the home of Arthur Cohen, president of worldwide marketing for Paramount Pictures. Glimcher, whose influence here has ranged from Wolper’s Picasso sculptures to Ovitz’s modern art collection, has gone on to first produce (“Legal Eagles” and “Gorillas in the Mist”) and now direct films (“The Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love”).

It only makes sense that the worlds mingle, says sculptor Robert Graham, whose work is in many industry collections and who is currently dating Anjelica Huston. “When you meet people, you gravitate toward those who are like you, who have the same struggles. The medium you use to manifest your vision is different but the struggle is the same.”

Publicly, their worlds intersect at charity art auctions, Hollywood parties and big-ticket art events. The premiere of Martin’s film, “L.A. Story,” was the first joint fund-raiser of MOCA and LACMA and attracted such performers as Cybill Shepherd, Michael Douglas and Tom Hanks. There were 1,200 people at the premiere, and each museum went home with $50,000.

“They’re involved with the scene in a way older collectors in the industry never were,” says curator Tuchman. “They identify with artists and the art world and commerce and risk; this is a story being told before their eyes.”

Steve Martin has called paintings “the last luxury” and “an intellectual harem,” and many buyers simply relish being surrounded by beauty and creativity. Tony Curtis speaks of the pleasure of standing in front of a great painting, in the very same arc of space where the artist stood, for instance. And the late Barry Lowen, a TV executive who inspired many of today’s collectors, would keep blocking off windows in his Hollywood home to have more wall space for his art.

It’s a far cry from Dusty, the rock star in Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters,” who has “a lot of wall space” in his new, huge house in Southampton. Stopping by a SoHo studio, fabulously wealthy Dusty declines to look at drawings because he wants “something big”--with puce in it to go with his new ottoman.

But just as with any industry, passion, commitment and motivation vary widely among Hollywood collectors. “I think with rare exceptions, they don’t devote the time,” says dealer Irving Blum, who runs galleries on both coasts. “I think they collect mostly for reasons of fashion. They pick up these shelter magazines and are often very influenced. They think paintings look really handsome on large white walls.”

“If it’s trendy to collect art, they’ll collect art,” says consultant Marcia Medavoy Ross. “In the early ‘70s, it was trendy to collect Tiffany lamps. If one person builds a screening room, everyone builds them. If you have 200 people collecting, and 30 who are serious, that’s a lot.”

Santa Monica dealer Michael Kohn is less diplomatic: “They want the accouterments of wealth and taste. Serious collectors go to galleries every weekend, sit on museum committees and don’t just buy a lot of (art) that’s supposed to be worth a lot of money. It’s hard to sink in an idea of quality to people who think a good movie is one that makes $100 million.”

Yet, museum curators frequently praise individuals in terms of scholarship as well as gift-giving, and Koshalek describes in-home art libraries that are well-used as well as extensive. “People who have a high profile in the industry are special targets of envy because of the surroundings of glamour,” Tuchman says. “I think it’s a nice change of pace for people in the industry to gossip about art rather than the revenues of the newest production.”

Moreover, the “industry” may have been hit by recession, but not so badly as real estate and banking. As the art-market frenzy dies down and many buyers are more cautious, art dealers here and elsewhere are courting show business buyers as never before.

These are people who have been known to trade expensive automobiles for fine paintings. Local collectors and dealers alike report that even New York dealers who may once have dismissed industry buyers are today seriously wooing them.

Some dealers wouldn’t name a celebrity buyer if their Jaguar leases depended on it, but others readily mention such things as how producer Thom Mount buys “strictly from his gut” and Bruce Springsteen is a “very nice guy” who stopped in and bought art during regular business hours. One dealer even has inscribed photographs in the gallery restroom from such people as Bruce Willis and Jodie Foster.

Connections certainly help. Marcia Medavoy Ross’ ex-husband is Mike Medavoy, chairman of Tri-Star Pictures. Dealer Earl McGrath was president of Rolling Stones Records at one point, and dealer Michael Kohn, who was born and raised here, says many of his friends from school are studio VPs now. Ruth Bloom of Meyers/Bloom in Santa Monica is married to entertainment lawyer Jake Bloom.

Dealer Jeanne Meyers says, for instance, that it was attorney Bloom who introduced her and many of his colleagues to the work of Leon Polk Smith. At the gallery’s recent Smith show, which closed March 30, she figures 40% of the artworks--at prices from $6,000 for a small collage to $210,000 for a large painting from the ‘60s--went to entertainment industry people.

TV and film producer Gene Corman criticizes colleagues who buy art because “somebody suggests an artist or another artist is hot.” Corman, who with his wife Nan has created a highly regarded collection of modern figurative art, feels that “people should judge on their own, and it’s not that difficult. When you read a book, you know instantly whether the person can write. Same with a screenplay. The words tell you the imagery and the substance. Looking at art is the same.”

Maybe for Corman, who traces his interest in art back to his college days at Stanford. But others are less sure of themselves. Today’s show-business people, much like today’s corporate buyers, often rely on helpers. Reputation and money both are involved, which make pedigree very important. They go to well-known dealers their friends use or they have read about, and they tend to buy familiar names.

‘I think everybody fears looking stupid,” Blum says. “Consultants are more powerful than they’ve ever been because people don’t want to be made to look silly and often aren’t prepared to devote the time themselves that it requires.”

Not that using consultants is worry-free. Sylvester Stallone sued art consultant Barbara Guggenheim for $5 million in December, 1989, saying that based on controversy surrounding a $1.8-million 19th-Century Bouguereau painting that she bought for him, he felt he paid too much for several other artworks bought through her. Both sides confirm that the suit was later dropped, and asked about the resultant bad publicity, Guggenheim says, “It comes with the territory. If you don’t cross the street, you don’t get run over. That was an unfortunate situation . . . but I have the highest regard for (Stallone).”

The high visibility makes celebrity buyers more subject to scrutiny, comments artist Billy Al Bengston, “and probably a little more timid in terms of making selections. If you take a nice egghead investor, he can collect anything he wants to and never get any flak for it.”

Art & Antiques editor Jeffrey Schaire notes, for instance, that Oprah Winfrey bought quite a bit of Shaker furniture last August at auction “and did it very publicly. (The buying) was picked up everywhere as a piece of gossip and I think that was a mildly unpleasant experience for her.”

Better to be candid about what you’re doing. “I’m not a very educated collector,” says Norman Lear, who has been collecting art since the ‘70s. “I also can’t walk around and tell you what year and what period of the artist’s creative life a piece of work was done in. What we have here amuses us and lifts our spirits.”

Artists and studio people have been slow-dancing for years. Siqueiros painted a mural on John Huston’s screening room wall, and Balthus encouraged Tony Curtis to paint.

West Hollywood dealer Patricia Faure recalls the ‘40s when, as a teen-ager, she worked as a volunteer with Vincent Price, a founder of Beverly Hills’ Modern Institute of Art and a key influence on art connoisseurship among his colleagues. Edward G. Robinson showed his collection of Impressionist and other masterworks at the County Museum of Art in 1956.

Ray Stark’s mother-in-law Fanny Brice collected art, and brother-in-law William Brice creates it; there are Brice paintings hanging alongside the Matisses and Diebenkorns throughout the house. Stark first became friendly with Henry Moore when “Funny Girl” was opening in London, and says that Moore interested the Starks in other sculptors.

Robinson sold most of his holdings because of a divorce settlement. And over the years, such important industry-based collections as those of Hal Wallis, Billy Wilder, and Edie Mayer Goetz and her husband, producer William Goetz, have raised millions of dollars at auction.

But collecting is addictive. Wilder’s collection of Impressionist and 20th-Century art may have fetched $32.6 million at Christie’s in 1989, for instance, but the award-winning producer-director is still buying art.

Wilder, who once said “I wish I’d collected more and directed less,” recently attended an opening at Gemini. There were four new Roy Lichtenstein prints on the gallery walls upstairs and four on the first floor, and Wilder loved every one of them. So when he couldn’t decide which of Lichtenstein’s “Interiors” to buy--for prices starting at $25,000 apiece--he bought all eight of them.

Dealers and collectors continually refer to a group of influential, well-known industry buyers like Wilder as “centers of influence.” Actor Curtis recalls learning about artists from Wilder, and Steve Martin has been quoted as tipping his hat to Andy Williams. Actor/director/artist Dennis Hopper bridges the art scenes of the ‘60s and the ‘90s.

Perhaps the key “center of influence” in the ‘80s was Barry Lowen, vice president for creative affairs at Aaron Spelling Productions until his death in 1985. From Cramer and Ovitz to new, younger collectors, serious buyers nearly always mention Lowen’s name. Before he died and his contemporary art collection was left to MOCA, Lowen’s art-engulfed Hollywood Hills home was a must visit for his colleagues and others.

Lowen was also a founder in 1985 of the Entertainment Alliance unit of the Modern and Contemporary Art Council support group at the County Museum of Art, an entity that has since all but disappeared. Maurice Tuchman blames its demise in part on the industry’s odd hours and irregular schedules, but he does not seem discouraged. “Now the numbers are such that they offer a venturesomeness and collegiality,” Tuchman says. “There’s a sense of community arising for the first time.”

What do they buy?

Purchases vary from collector to collector, but Kenneth Noland and Frank Stella seem as popular today as they were in the ‘70s. Fewer people these days can afford to buy the Impressionists, but many people in Hollywood own work by David Hockney, Franz Kline and Alexander Calder. They own works by Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg, Ellsworth Kelly, Jonathan Borofsky, Joel Shapiro and Bruce Nauman.

Everybody who can afford it has at least one work by Eric Fischl, David Salle or Julian Schnabel, the “hot” artists of the ‘80s. And both Madonna and Jack Nicholson reportedly collect Tamara de Lempicka--the artist institutionalized by the play “Tamara”--in addition to other work.

Such Los Angeles-based artists as Ed Ruscha, Laddie John Dill, John Baldessari, Charles Arnoldi, Valentine and Graham often appear in these collections, but the emphasis remains on New York artists. Says Billy Al Bengston: “If I had to depend on the movie industry, I’d sure be up a creek.”

Madonna, who has been quoted saying she began collecting art “as soon as I had the bread,” has not only bought paintings by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo but also commissioned a screenplay about her. Consultant Guggenheim says she seeks out social-realist paintings for one producer, paintings with very strong points of view or specialized lighting for a director client. Producer Daniel Melnick, she says, collects “cool, minimalist paintings and works by young abstract painters working off that tradition,” while Stallone, she says, looks for “heroic” figures in his art, whether in Old Masters or more contemporary work.

Industry people tend to concentrate on particular artists or periods, says Sandra Starr, director of the James Corcoran Gallery, “and I think this is one of the reasons they tend to end up having very good collections. Possibly because they don’t have a lot of time, they tend to be very intense and that kind of intensity (can) produce very good collections.”

Producer David Wolper, for instance, stalked Picasso sculpture; in the bar of the Plaza Athenee in Paris, he and Glimcher looked through books together at potential purchases, then set out to buy them. That was in 1980, and by 1984, Wolper had amassed so many that when the County Museum of Art exhibited “David L. Wolper’s Picassos,” the collection represented the largest group of Picasso sculpture then in private hands.

Like people in other businesses who buy art, some collectors can’t wait to talk about it. Walking a visitor through their collections, they toss off the provenance of their artworks, peppering their conversation with phrases like “lucky to get it” and “don’t make me sound pretentious.” They note which of their paintings have been featured in art magazines, and are quick to send along glossy photo spreads from Architectural Record.

Producer Joel Silver (“Die Hard” and “Lethal Weapon”), who generally refuses to talk to the press, readily chats about his passion for Frank Lloyd Wright houses--he’s been living in Wright’s 2,500-square-foot Storer house in the Hollywood Hills since ’84 and has been working on the Auldbrass Plantation in South Carolina since purchasing it in 1986. Silver even sets up a walk-through of his home for the reporter.

The tour is led by dealer Tod Volpe, who estimates that the entertainment industry could account for half of the Arts and Crafts business here generally. Volpe helped producer Silver locate and buy furniture and decorative art pieces for his Wright-designed homes, then went on to work with many of Silver’s friends and colleagues. Art adviser to such heavyweights as Larry Gordon (“Field of Dreams”) and actors Nicholson, Streisand and Willis, Volpe left behind his Madison Avenue gallery and headed West to cultivate a market here.

Although such celebrities as Nicholson and Stallone have been spotted at auctions, many of their colleagues lie low for privacy or security reasons--or to keep prices from escalating. Steve Martin, for instance, will roller-skate through the County Museum of Art in “L.A. Story,” or open his home to top collectors affiliated with MOCA, but requests to talk about his art are nearly always turned down flat.

Creative Artists Agency chairman Michael Ovitz also shies away from discussing his personal art collection, preferring to talk about his new corporate headquarters. The I.M. Pei building “was built to be a piece of art itself,” says Ovitz, who also commissioned Roy Lichtenstein to create a monumental 26-foot-high painting on-site.

While Ovitz’s contemporary desk reflects the curves and style of Pei’s building, the rest of the office reflects his eclectic collecting style. A book about Pei rests on a Noguchi table not far from a minimalist Robert Mangold painting; there are Giacometti chairs, turn-of-the-century African sculpture, a Japanese woodblock, a Miro sculpture and Chinese silk fabrics.

Ovitz and other well-heeled collectors generally make many of their purchases in New York and observers guess show business people are buying as much--if not more--in New York as here.

Most of these people are bi-coastal, and those who don’t have homes in both cities still regularly visit New York. They travel SoHo galleries on Saturdays, hit the 57th Street galleries during the week. Cramer is on the Museum of Modern Art’s international council, and Ovitz is on MOMA’s high-level Chairman’s Council and was recently named to the museum’s Trustee Committee on Film.

What about future buying by the industry? Agents David and Bob Gersh grew up in a house filled with fine art by their parents, Beatrice and Phil Gersh, and are building their own impressive collections. Young stars and producers are growing accustomed to seeing good art on the walls of their agents’ and lawyers’ homes and offices. Is it making an impression?

Maybe so. Industry buyers scooped up John Alexander’s paintings, for instance, in recent shows at Jan Turner’s and Earl McGrath’s galleries. Alexander “happens to know a lot of people in the industry,” says Turner, who sold nearly half of Alexander’s $22,000 to $40,000 paintings to industry people “in this so-called slow period.” Among the buyers, says Turner, were “China Beach’s” Dana Delany and Robin Williams.

Music supervisor Joe Jarrell, 27, talks about one day buying art from Thomas Solomon, who has been selling “cutting edge” art from assorted garage-based galleries locally since the fall of 1988. (Solomon used the pool at director Paul Mazursky’s house a few years ago for a Christmas exhibition of waterproof art.) “People in the entertainment industry are interested in art that doesn’t hit you over the head,” Solomon says. “They’re educated, go to museums, read art magazines, and are interested in art history.”

Many younger people are also buying photographs, which are often less intimidating, less money comparatively, and more familiar to movie people than other art forms. Photography dealer David Fahey estimates that at least 30% of Fahey/Klein’s customers are in the industry, and says such people bought half the photographs in last fall’s Irving Penn show--at $1,500 to $20,000 apiece.

“People in arts-related industries tend to be in the avant-garde and are more forward thinking,” Fahey says. “Even collecting classical photography has only been very popular the past 20 years. They’re catching the wave early on.”

Now, dealers and artists alike are talking movies. Perhaps following in the tradition of the late Andy Warhol, artists David Salle and Robert Longo have both indicated interest in film-making. Dealer Volpe is currently developing one film on the legendary art dealer, Joseph Duveen, and another on art thefts.

Glimcher’s example has obviously not gone unnoticed. The dealer/producer says arts sales have resulted from his movie contacts, and younger dealer Stuart Regen candidly pegs his involvement as an associate producer on Hemdale Pictures’ “Bright Angel” to the potential of new business.

Regen, who figures half of his business is entertainment industry people, opened his gallery in West Hollywood partly because so many industry people lunched in the area. And he got involved on “Bright Angel,” he says, “in part because I knew it would introduce me to people in the movie industry who may not know my gallery or may not go to galleries period.”

Due at MOCA in early 1992, meanwhile, is “Art and Film,” a show examining “the crossovers, coincidences and fusions” of modern art and films from 1895 to 1970. The exhibition has received funding from Warner Communications.

And producer Corman, who is active in the County Museum’s Modern and Contemporary Art Council, says he recently proposed that the council put together a show of favorite artworks from industry collections as a fund-raiser. “Many people would come who might not necessarily step foot in a museum otherwise,” Corman says. “It would show the community the sensibilities of people in the entertainment business.”

WHO IS COLLECTING WHAT? A SAMPLER Bill Cosby: African-American art, Shaker furniture Douglas Cramer: contemporary masters (Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein) Diandra and Michael Douglas: Indian art, furniture Harrison Ford: late Impressionist (Edouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard) Richard Gere: photography (Henri Cartier-Bresson, Joel Peter Witkin) David Geffen: contemporary art (David Hockney, Sam Francis, Johns) Larry Gordon: American Arts and Crafts and early 20th-Century American paintings Dennis Hopper: Modern and contemporary (Marcel Duchamp, Ed Ruscha, Jean-Michel Basquiat) Lyn and Norman Lear: contemporary paintings and sculpture (Robert Graham, Robert Rauschenberg) Madonna: Frida Kahlo paintings, photography (early 20th-Century masters), Pablo Picasso Steve Martin: Hockney, Franz Kline, Helen Frankenthaler Daniel Melnick: Emerging and contemporary (Lichtenstein, Ellsworth Kelly) Jack Nicholson: Impressionist and Modernist paintings and sculpture, Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau Michael Ovitz: Modern (Picasso, Joan Miro, Jean Dubuffet) and contemporary (Lichtenstein), African art Joel Silver: Frank Lloyd Wright houses, Teco pottery, Arts and Crafts Steven Spielberg: Norman Rockwell, Disney cels Sylvester Stallone: Old masters and contemporary art (Francis Bacon, Anselm Kiefer) Fran and Ray Stark: Impressionist (Claude Monet) and modern paintings and sculpture (Aristide Maillol, Henry Moore), contemporary art Barbra Streisand: American furniture, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Arts and Crafts Times librarian Dorothy Ingebretsen contributed to the research in this article. * A LINK BETWEEN TWO WORLDS TV producer and art collector Douglas Cramer lives in two worlds. Page 74