Museums Collectors USA

Berggruen builds collection for Los Angeles

The German collector shelves plans to build a Berlin museum in favour of long-term loans to the US

Berggruen is focusing on German and West Coast artists, including Chris Burden, whose Metropolis II (right) is already on loan to Lacma from the collector

The private collector and billionaire Nicolas Berggruen, son of the late German-Jewish art dealer and philanthropist Heinz Berggruen, is set to follow in the footsteps of the collector Eli Broad by sending several works on long-term loans to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Lacma), where Berggruen is a trustee. “I’m building up a collection for Lacma,” he says, “focusing on German artists such as Thomas Schütte, Martin Kippenberger, Gerhard Richter and Joseph Beuys.” Works by West Coast artists such as John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha, Charles Ray, Paul McCarthy, Bruce Nauman and Mike Kelley from Berggruen’s collection are also due to end up at the museum. “Los Angeles is still a developing cultural centre and that’s why one can make a difference there,” he says. His father, Heinz Berggruen, sold his collection of modern masterpieces for $120m—one-tenth of its value—to Berlin in 2000. There is now a museum in the city to house these holdings.

A spokeswoman for Lacma says that it has been in discussions with Nicolas Berggruen “regarding entering into an agreement for a very significant group of works [to go] on long-term loan to [the museum]”. Berggruen has already loaned one work to the museum, Chris Burden’s Metropolis II, 2010, which was being installed for display on the ground floor of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, Lacma’s affiliate space, as we went to press. It is due to open on 14 January and is on loan for at least ten years. Billionaire philanthropist Broad paid $56m for the construction of the space, which opened in 2008, housing works from the non-profit Broad Art Foundation’s 1,600-strong collection.

The move means that Berggruen’s plans to establish a museum in Berlin appear to be on hold, although part of his collection could end up in the German capital. “Some works may go to Berlin in addition to Lacma,” he says. In 2008, Berggruen offered to fund the construction of a museum in Berlin on a site owned by the senate, the local government body. The planned institution, a co-partnership with the senate and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (State Museums of Berlin), would have housed his own modern and contemporary art holdings alongside other collections.

A spokesman for cultural affairs at the senate says, however: “The original idea, which mayor Klaus Wowereit supported, was to sell a prominent piece of land next to Berlin’s main train station to a real estate developer who would launch a museum for contemporary art and build a kunsthalle exhibition hall for the city of Berlin. Berggruen was one of the possible investors. Those plans collapsed during the financial crisis.”

A spokeswoman for Berggruen says: “Berlin missed its chance. The city set such unrealistic conditions, in the end no one applied for the land offered for sale. Nicolas Berggruen, meanwhile, is co-operating with Lacma, but is still interested in establishing a museum of contemporary art in Berlin.”

Meanwhile, the Museum Berggruen, which houses Heinz Berggruen’s modern art collection, is undergoing refurbishment, with an extension due to open in June. Berggruen says that he plans to add works by artists such as Picasso and Klee to the collection. “I buy art to give it away,” he says.

Berggruen is chairman of Berggruen Holdings which invests in private equity, real estate and alternative energy; the company is worth in excess of $2bn. The Nicolas Berggruen Institute, a think tank established in 2009, counts Eli Broad and former UK prime minister Tony Blair among its members.

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27 Jan 12
15:3 CET


I do not understand the extraordinary level of chauvinism evidenced in these transactions. As a collector Berggruen is certainly free to build a collection by whatever standards he sees fit, however base they may be. The boards of public museums, their directors and curators have a responsibility to exhibit work of excellence regardless of the artist's gender.

5 Jan 12
18:7 CET


Two comments: 1) The works that Heinz Berggruen sold to Berlin were not worth anywhere near ten times the selling price. This popular misconception is based on Mr Berggruen's own evaluations. 2) Long-term loans to state musems are not gifts. They are a means of storing and enhancing private investments at public expense. If Nicolas Berggruen purports to "buy art to give it away," it's time he made a start.

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