Collectors USA

Two museums promised a third of one of the great collections of modern American art

Which poses the question: will the late Hannelore Schulhof’s heirs sell major works?

Hannelore Schulhof with the artist Afro Basaldella in Rome, 1965

The death of the patron and art collector Hannelore Schulhof at the age of 90 in February is raising questions about the fate of around 350 postwar and contemporary American works of art that she collected with her husband, Rudolph, who died in 1999.

They began collecting art in the 1950s. Five decades, thousands of studio visits, countless friendships and many museum trusteeships later, they had amassed a collection that included works by Ellsworth Kelly, Cy Twombly, Jasper Johns and Mark Rothko.

Some of the works will go to museums. In 2005, the then director of the Guggenheim, Thomas Krens, announced that some of the collection would go to its Venice branch, partly because of the friendship between the Schulhofs and Peggy Guggenheim. It now emerges that the Israel Museum will also benefit. “A third of the collection is going either to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice [83 works] or to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem [14 works],” says Lisa Jacobs, the curator of the Schulhof Collection. “The Schulhofs maintained longstanding relationships with these museums.”

Rudolph was a founding director of the Israel Museum in 1965 and they were long-standing supporters of the institution. The pair gave the Israel Museum a James Turrell skyspace installation, Space That Sees, 1992. They were also both charter members of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection’s advisory board.

But what will happen to the two-thirds of the collection not going to museums? Jacobs will only say that these works “will be distributed among family members”, of whom there are six. Yet it is likely that with possible competing agendas and estate taxes to consider, some works will come to market in the next 12 months. They may include major paintings and sculptures by Joseph Cornell, Jean Dubuffet, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Agnes Martin and Robert Ryman.

When the question of the possible sale of parts of his parents’ collection was put to Schulhof’s son, Michael, the estate’s sole executor and the chief executive of the private equity GTI Group, he would only say: “That is a private matter for the family to consider. I don’t want any information about the pieces not going to museums in print. That is all I have to say.”

His mother was born Hannelore Buck in Berlin, and married the Czech-born Rudolph in Brussels in 1940. To escape the Nazis, they emigrated to the United States in the same year. They settled down to a life of comfort in New York (courtesy of the family business, the bulk of which consisted of printing Catholic greeting cards for US archdioceses). She was praised by many for her enlightened approach to collecting. She once said: “Art is almost like a religion. It is what I believe in. It is what gives my life dimension beyond the material world.” Her motto as a collector, as reproduced in the Guggenheim’s 2011 catalogue Hannelore B. and Rudolph B. Schulhof Collection, was: “Buy with your eyes, not with your ears.” It remains to be seen if the future owners of her works, be they relatives or not, will view them as art or asset.

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