Frederick R.Weisman Art Foundation
A shared passion for art brings a legacy of appreciation
Someone once asked the late Frederick Weisman, “How do you ever decide which piece of art to buy?”
With a grin on his face and a sparkle in his eyes, he pointed to his heart and said, “If it hits you right here, you go for it.Works of art you are passionate about are like children—you can always make room for more!”
And that is precisely what Mr.Weisman did. He bought art that moved him and made room for it at his home, place of business and American embassies around the world; he gifted to various museums, hospitals, universities and organized traveling exhibitions.
Born in Minneapolis, Mr. Weisman moved to Los Angeles with his Russian immigrant family at the age of seven. The Weismans moved around the city constantly; because the family never stayed in one place long enough to hang anything on the walls, when he later settled in a place of his own he covered the walls with memorabilia and images of art from calendars.
Mr. Weisman went on to become quite an entrepreneur with a restless energy for marketing and business. Eventually, he married Marcia Simon, the sister of noted art collector Norton Simon.With Marcia, he moved from hanging reproductions to collecting great contemporary art.
He became a maverick among Los Angeles collectors, leaving a legacy of works that both tour internationally and that are permanently installed at the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation. He donated contemporary art to numerous museums as well as provided funding for the establishment of the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University and at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
Giving back to the same public who had enabled his success, Mr. Weisman was very active in Los Angeles museums and other institutions. He was a board member at LACMA for many years and a supporter of MOCA; in addition, he and Marcia established the Art Program at Cedars-Sinai Hospital.
In the mid-1980s, he founded the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation and placed art for public view at his place of business designed by Frank Gehry and at his residential estate designed by Gordon Kaufmann (a Franklin Israel- designed annex to house large-scale art was added in 1991). The estate has one of the most extensive personal art collections in the world, holding over 500 works of modern and contemporary art by European modernists Cézanne and Kandinsky; Surrealists Ernst, Miró and Magritte; Pop artists Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Oldenburg; Abstract Expressionists de Kooning, Pollack, and Rothko; and contemporary California artists Ed Ruscha and Joe Goode, among many others. He even went so far as to commission Ruscha and Goode to paint both the exterior and interior of his corporate plane. He used to say,“I live with art, I work with art and now I even fly with art.”
Mr. Weisman collected both established names and emerging talent. As most still remember, he was far ahead of his time.“He was emphatic about young artists and he said that to develop a good eye you just needed to look, look and constant- ly look and be passionate about what you do buy,” his widow Billie Milam explains.
“Frederick always said that if you’re successful in business you need to give back in meaningful ways,” she continues. “He gave considerably to organizations for mental disabilities and collected and shared art because he felt that the arts communicated quicker than language and clearer than philosophy.” She adds that they both felt that art helped individuals in all disciplines to think creatively as well as to enrich the soul.
Billie was a museum professional and art conservator working with major collectors and the Trustees of LACMA when she first met Mr. Weisman.
She describes their “life together with the arts as magical…we had something we really loved in common as well as enjoyed knowing the artists. Fred taught me what I didn’t learn in school and that was to trust your passion and instincts.”
If there wasn’t room for a work in their own home, Mr. Weisman would do the unthinkable and hang it from the ceiling.“That’s how he hung Ed Ruscha’s The World and Its Onions,” Billie remembers. Of the hanging creation, Ruscha himself commented,“…typical Fred!”
Mr.Weisman was a free spirit not only in how he hung his art, but also in how often he hung it.“We would move art around at all hours of the night and I used to joke that he slept with a hammer under his pillow so that he could reach it easily if he felt compelled to change things around.We used to joke that the walls were like Swiss cheese because we moved the pieces around so much,” Billie smiles.
Today, Billie continues her late husband’s legacy by keeping the foundation running smoothly. As its director, she travels all over the world to exhibit, striving to perpetuate Mr.Weisman’s passion for the art of today and sense of loyalty to the artists who have created it.Art was—and continues to be through the work of the Frederick R.Weisman Art Foundation—their passion.
Image: The Front Circular Drive with sculptures by Robert Graham, Francois-Xavier LaLanne, and a Native American Indian figure. Photo by David Moore.