MOCA Is Given a Major Art Collection


In a stroke of cultural patronage that reinforces its reputation for snagging important art collections, the Museum of Contemporary Art will announce today that it has received a bequest of 83 works on paper from Marcia Simon Weisman, a longtime MOCA trustee who died in 1991.

The collection, valued at $6 million to $8 million, was amassed by the high-profile contemporary art advocate, whose brother, Norton Simon, and ex-husband, Frederick R. Weisman, also were major art collectors.

The highlight of the bequest is Willem de Kooning's "Two Women With Still Life," a 1952 pastel and charcoal drawing valued at more than $2 million. Other donated works include prime drawings and prints by such seminal figures as abstract expressionists Arshile Gorky, Barnett Newman and Jackson Pollock, pop artist Jasper Johns and California-based painters Richard Diebenkorn and Sam Francis.

Along with the artworks, the Marcia S. Weisman Foundation has given the museum an undisclosed amount of funds to help develop a study center for works on paper and to appoint a curator to oversee the collection and manage the new facility. The study center, to be housed in a former orientation gallery next to the museum's sculpture plaza, is expected to open in 1997.

"This is one of the most significant announcements we have made in the 15-year history of MOCA," museum Director Richard Koshalek said of the three-part gift. "It not only celebrates Marcia's continuing contribution to the museum--which began in April, 1980, when she joined the board of trustees--it also celebrates her commitment to the creative individual, to the artist. There are works by 51 artists in this collection of 83 drawings. Marcia knew almost every one of them, and supported and encouraged their work."

Koshalek called the donation "a major step for this institution in works on paper" and said the bequest should attract other gifts. In addition to the Weisman collection, the new study center will house most of the 73 drawings, 169 prints and 2,364 photographs already in MOCA's permanent collection.

Museum officials declined to state the value of the bequest, but sources familiar with the collection provided the $6-million to $8-million estimate.

MOCA's chief curator, Paul Schimmel, said the Weisman collection is among the top gifts of art ever received by the museum, ranked just below the Taft and Rita Schreiber collection of 18 paintings, drawings and sculptures, collector Barry Lowen's 67-piece donation, artist Sam Francis' bequest of 10 of his paintings and Weisman's earlier 1990 gift of Jasper Johns' 1962 painting, "Map," the most important work in her holding.

The museum also would not specify the value of De Kooning's "Two Women With Still Life," but a similar piece, "Two Women IV," also executed in 1952, was auctioned in 1988 at Christie's New York for $1.87 million.

Among other valuable and critically revered items in the bequest are Gorky's 1943 crayon, pencil and ink "Study for Liver Is the Cock's Comb," Newman's 1946 seminal abstract "zip" drawing, "The Cry," and Pollock's untitled 1943 surrealist composition in collage and ink. Ten works by Johns, dating from 1957 to 1986, include a watercolor and pencil drawing of a target and etchings and lithographs depicting lightbulbs, paintbrushes and flags.

The earliest acquisitions were made in the 1960s, when Weisman collected a wide range of paintings, sculpture and works on paper with her husband. The couple were divorced in 1981 and their collection was divided. Buying on her own during the art market boom of the 1980s, Marcia Weisman began to concentrate on relatively affordable works on paper, strengthening her holdings of blue-chip New York School artists and purchasing art on a more adventurous level by younger artists from California and elsewhere.

"The heart of her collection was the drawings," Schimmel said. "She saw it as one complete collection. It meant a great deal to her to keep it together as a foundation for MOCA's future growth."

Because of her friendship with artists, she had access to exceptional works and occasionally received art as a gift. Abstract expressionist Clyfford Still, who was not known for his generosity, gave her an untitled pastel. A crayon drawing of a figure by 1980s superstar Jean Michel Basquiat--which Weisman initially hated but grew to admire--was presented to her in 1982, when she saw the artist drawing it and made a disparaging remark about his primitive style.

Weisman's collection is being dispersed with the advice of a committee that she assembled several years before her death. Although she died before final plans were made, she had outlined her wishes for MOCA. The delay in announcing the gift resulted from legal procedures and the complexities of working with the committee, planning a study center and searching for a curator, Koshalek said.

In announcing the gift, the museum also made public the appointment of Cornelia H. Butler as assistant curator for works on paper. She has held curatorial positions at the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, N.Y., Artists Space in New York and the Des Moines Art Center.

MOCA did not inherit Weisman's entire collection. Last year, the University Art Museum at UC Berkeley received 12 artworks from the estate, including a Cubist drawing by Fernand Leger, a figurative sculpture by George Segal and a mobile by Alexander Calder. Remaining works will be dispersed to other museums by the end of the year.

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