A century of tradition: looking at the art lovers of Chicago

Money from finance, industry and the law fund some of the city’s leading buyers and contemporary art is high on their agenda



With a tradition that stretches back to the reconstruction of the city more than a century ago, it is not surprising to discover that, with the single exception of New York, there are finer private collections of modern and contemporary art in Chicago than in any other major centre in the United States.

A dozen names are well known to the art market and they include Marilynn B. Alsdorf, Lindy Bergman, Helen Goldenberg, Ruth Horwich, Rose Newman and Paul and Camille Oliver-Hoffmann. But there are another twenty or so collectors, for example Jack and Sandy Guthman or Howard and Donna Stone, who are beginning to make their mark and gain proper recognition for their commitment and vision.

One of the most interesting personalities is Stefan Edlis, proprietor of Apollo Plastics, and his Australian wife Gael Neeson, who own important examples of pictures by Miró, Jasper Johns (“In Memory of My Feelings: Frank O’Hara”), Gerhard Richter and Robert Rauschenberg, by whom they have recently acquired a major combine painting. Their purchase of the artist’s copy of “Rabbit”, the polished stainless steel sculpture which Jeff Koons had created in 1986 and for which they were reported to have paid $1 million, was the event which brought considerable publicity to their activities.

The collectors who enjoy the highest profiles are Lewis and Susan Manilow, who built a remarkable collection of Eighties art which was spread between their former home and Mr Manilow’s former law office conveniently occupying a loft building, a space which might have been designed for the large canvases which they were acquiring.

When they moved to their new house, designed for them by the English architect Max Gordon, which also houses the law practice, substantial disposals were necessary and took place in an auction held at Christie’s, New York, on 7 November 1989. Remarkable prices were paid for minimalist sculpture and pictures, including a white painting of 1978 by Robert Ryman which fetched an astonishing $2.1 million; drawings and sculpture by Joseph Beuys; and works by Baselitz, Penck, Schnabel, Chia, Clemente and Gilbert & George. In hindsight, they judged the peak of the market perfectly.

Other sales have followed, including Bruce Nauman’s “One Hundred Live and Die” which fetched $1.75 million at Sotheby’s, New York, on 17 November 1992, and which may have been the masterpiece of their contemporary art collection. But plenty of good material remains in their possession: Fischl, Baselitz, Polke and Rosemarie Trockel in a gallery space on their top floor; exceptional paintings and drawings by Richter; three superb Kiefer paintings displayed around their living room; a painting by Picasso and a drawing by Degas; and a collection of antiquities, as well as works by younger artists. The Manilow collection has moved backwards and forwards in time during the last few years.

With residences in New York and Aspen, Thomas and Frances Dittmer only spend a proportion of their time in Chicago, but their apartment on Lake Shore Drive is filled with a collection of minimalist and conceptual art, including works by Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, Ryman, Lewitt and Richard Tuttle. It is complemented by a second collection of works by the same artists to be found in the offices of REFCO, the commodities trading business of which Mr Dittmer is chairman. There is another collection of Abstract Expressionist material, featuring Pollock and de Kooning, which was formerly displayed in their home in Lake Forest, near Chicago, but that house has been sold and this part of the collection moved to their house on New York’s Upper East Side. Gerhard Richter’s “Neger (Nuba)”, offered by Sotheby’s, London, on 29 November 1995, is a recent purchase of Mrs Dittmer’s, who is a trustee of the Art Institute and the Museum of Contemporary Art, and has joined the painting and sculpture committee of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

One collector who has continued to acquire the new tastes in contemporary art is Richard H. Cooper, founder of Cooperfund, a family controlled investment company. In its offices in Oakbrook, in the western suburbs of Chicago, he has installed a collection which he describes as a mythical tour of art history embracing the secular and the profane.

It opens with Julian Schnabel’s “Portrait of God” and concludes with “Three Faced Cunt”, a characteristically provocative work by Jake and Dinos Chapman. Mr Cooper has been acquiring art for twenty years and his collection includes Lichtenstein, Stella, Salle, Kiefer and Koons, in addition to thirty-five paintings by Schnabel, the largest single accumulation of the artist’s work in the world. His latest acquisition is a plate portrait of his wife, Lana, of which he took delivery last month. Through visits to London, and recommendations from dealers Jay Jopling and Tanya Bonakdar, he has come to know and collect the new generation of British art, and owns Marc Quinn’s “Fear of Fear” and a bronze bread portrait bust; a large tabloid canvas by Sarah Lucas; paintings by Gary Hume and Marcus Harvey; and a selection of works by Damien Hirst including a medicine cabinet; “Batholomew”, one of the twelve Apostles represented as a cow’s head in a vitrine; several spot paintings; and “I love you”, a butterfly painting.

Gallery shows in May

Jean Albano (312.440 0770)

Margaret Wharton (3 May-1 June)

Arts Club of Chicago

(tel. 312 787 3997)

David Ireland: sculpture (until 31 May)

August House (tel. 312 327 5615)

“Food glorious food” (until 25 May)

Belloc Lowndes (tel. 312 573 1157)

Alison Watt: paintings (until 4 June)

Chicago Center for the Print

(tel. 312 466 1585)

“The art of the mezzotint”: group show (throughout May)

Douglas Dawson Gallery

(tel. 312 751 1961)

Ancient stone sculpture from the Americas (until 31 May)

Fassbender Gallery

(tel. 312 951 5979)

“Madness and Matt Lamb” (until 1 June)

Feigen Inc. (tel. 312 787 0500)

Jean Dunning (until 25 May)

Oskar Friedl (tel. 312 337 7550)

Zhou Brothers: works on paper

(3 May-5 July)

Richard Gray Gallery

(tel. 312 642 8877)

Jaume Plensa: Island (10 May-11 July)

Gruen Galleries (tel. 312. 337 6282)

Stephen Hansen: new sculpture

(3 May-4 June)

Katherine Edelman

(tel. 312 266 2350)

Tom Baril: recent photographs

(until 1 June)

Rhona Hoffman Gallery

(tel. 312 951 8828)

“#10”: new British art (until 1 June)

Gwenda Jay (tel. 312 664 3406)

“Split Personalities”: Alexander Kaletski

R.S. Johnson Fine Art

(tel. 312 943 1661)

Béla Czóbel: paintings and drawings (through May)

Kass/Meridian (tel. 312 266 5999)

Joseph Stabilito (17 May to 7 June)

Klein Artworks (tel. 312 243 0400)

“Contemporary Abstraction”: painting, sculpture and works on paper (4-25 May)

Portals Ltd (tel. 312 642 1066)

Brigid Marlin: Recent paintings

Lydon Fine Art (tel. 312 943 1133)

Genell Miller and Tim Hadfield: recent paintins and works on paper (until 5 June)

Printworks (tel. 312 664 9407)

Group show including works by Leon Golub, Richard Hunt and Nancy Spero (throughout May)

Judy Saslow (tel. 312 943 0530)

“Far Out ‘96”: European and American Outsider art (until 6 July)

Schneider Gallery (tel. 312 988 4033)

Luis Gonzalez Palma: photographs of Guatemala (3 May-5 June)

Galleries Sternberg (tel. 12 642 1700)

19th- and 20th-century European and American paintings (throughout May)

Zolla/Lieberman (tel. 312 9441990)

Group show of gallery artists (3 May-1 June)

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘A century of tradition: the art lovers of Chicago'


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