Panza Collection at MOCA: Collecting in Grand Style

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Works by Claes Oldenburg are among those acquired by MOCA from Count Giuseppe Panza.


To be a good collector you have to think a lot, to see a lot, to judge with care, not let yourself be dragged along too much by enthusiasm. One should make decisions slowly and buy what you like. And you need great faith in yourself. I bought artwork against the opinions of everyone.  

–Guiseppe Panza di Biumo, (1923-2010), Varese, Italy

For many art lovers the “Aha!” experience that comes from being mesmerized by a huge, magnificent abstract painting–like those of Mark Rothko, Antonio Tapies, and Franz Kline –and appreciating its open language beyond literal associations is one of the great experiences of art. As avid, wealthy collectors, the Count and Mrs. Guiseppe Panza lived lifetimes of this experience as close observers. The couple knew the many of the artists whose works are included in their extensive collection, and works in the Panza Collection follow the trajectory of artists’ styles over their careers.

The Panza Collection, one of the great collections of American and European art, is the result of the vision of Count Panza (1923-2010), an Italian businessman who made a fortune in wine and real estate in Milan.  Panza collected with a specialized focus on specific artists and over about 40 years amassed a good number of masterpieces of Minimalist painting, sculpture, and conceptual art. As his collection grew, so did the expanse of his villa in Varese, with gallery spaces added to accommodate the artworks.

Panza’s collecting was monumental and expensive; his intention was to keep as much of the collection together as possible and to make sure it eventually became part of public institutions.

At the core of MOCA’s permanent collection is the 81-piece purchase selected from Dr. Guiseppe and Mrs. Panza’s celebrated collection of 2500 artworks.  The MOCA acquisition, made in 1984, focused on modern artists—mainly painters–beginning in the 1950s. These artworks were on view, along with selections from other donors, at MOCA Grand Avenue as “The Panza Collection and Selections from Major Gifts of Beatrice and Philip Gersh, Rita and Taft Schreiber, and Marcia Simon Weisman,” installed by MOCA Senior Curator Alma Ruiz.

The Panza Collection, upon its distribution, was roughly divided into categories by types of work and then acquired by several institutions including the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, and the Solomon Guggenheim Museum in New York; later the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco acquired artworks. The Albright-Knox, for example, acquired portions of the Panza collection related to the Light and Space movements primarily from the 1960s and 1970s, which includes Robert Irwin, James Turrell, and Dan Flavin.  The Guggenheim specialized its collection additions in Conceptual art.

MOCA’s $11 million purchase–a huge bargain by today’s standards–was of art-history-course-level works from the 1950s through 1970s including important paintings of Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, and Antonio Tapies; “combines,” or assemblage paintings and sculpture by Robert Rauschenberg, and early pop art pieces by Claes Oldenburg and James Rosenquist.  Panza, who died two years ago, said that he collected artworks for their beauty, meaning, and spiritual integrity.

The special installation of this generous selection (62 of the 81 works) is on view through March 8, 2013

The labeling of the installation is especially helpful with key quotes about art-making from the artists. The awesome suite of Rothko paintings is labeled with the explanatory quote from the artist:

I paint large picture because I want to create a state of intimacy.  A large picture is an immediate transaction; it takes you into it.

The exhibition also contains wonderful smaller works including early pieces by Jasper Johns and Jackson Pollock.

In February, examples of another sort of collector spirit will be on view at MOCA. “Fifty Works for Fifty States,” will include that portion of the Vogel’s collection that will reside in California at MOCA. The Vogels collected smaller works by major American artists on a working-person’s budget, acquiring about 2,500 artworks, which have been divided up and given to museums in all 50 states. CARTWHEEL will be looking at the Vogel collection and the couple’s style of collecting when “Fifty Works for Fifty States,” opens.


“The Panza Collection and Selections from Major Gifts of Beatrice and Philip Gersh, Rita and Taft Schreiber, and Marcia Simon Weisman”
MOCA Grand Avenue
250 South Grand
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Hours: Monday 11am-5pm; Tuesday-Wednesday closed; Thursday 11am-8pm (free after 5pm); Friday 11am-5pm; Saturday and Sunday 11am-6pm.
General admission $12; over 65 and students with ID $7; Children under 12 and jurors with ID free. Free Thursdays 5pm-8pm.
Parking varies.



Mark Rothko, 1960, “Black on Dark Sienna on Purple,” is among several Rothko paintings collected by Count Panza that now comprise an important part of MOCA’s permanent collection.



George Segal, 1963-67, “Sunbathers on Rooftop” is among the Panza Collection acquisition joining the collection at MOCA.


Exquisite smaller works by Clyfford Still, left, an early Jackson Pollock, center, and Jasper Johns, right, are included in The Panza Collection acquired in 1984 by MOCA.




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