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And people have been ripped off. Dealer-consultant Todd Michael Volpe, who used to buy for Jack Nicholson, once sold a piece of sculpture to Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall for $83,000. The producers were led to believe that it was made in the 1920s, yet in fact it was cast in 1970 and worth much less than what they paid. (Volpe was later arrested and charged with defrauding his clients of $2.5 million.)
The most enviable collections, at least from a collector’s point of view, tend to be those that reflect the personalities of their owners. When an owner is less hands-on, his or her collection may appear encyclopedic at best, haphazard at worst. Nicholson’s collection is said to be worth $100 million, yet it couldn’t be more varied. Displayed, or as some say, kept, throughout his Mulholland home, it leaps from Picasso to Ruscha, the Impressionists to 18th-century Venetian paintings.
On the other hand, those who visited Billy Wilder’s house usually came away with the feeling that the art on the walls — which included Picassos, Klees, Schieles and even Steinbergs — could have been created by the director himself. Each reflected his own intelligence, passion and wicked wit to a T.
The same could be said of a number of Hollywood collections. Kathleen Kennedy, for instance, has a choice selection of American social realism, and David Geffen, who’s considered the collector’s collector, has some of the best Rauschenbergs, Johns and Twomblys anywhere. (Geffen may work with buyers, but his hand is clearly apparent in the choices he makes.)
In 1999, entertainment attorney Alan Hergott worked with the architect Michael Maltzen to create a house specifically to showcase his collection of prime contemporary works. Today, that same collection, which he built with his partner of 16 years, Curt Shepard, virtually colonizes every room. And if you pick any two at random you’ll find a nexus: The haunting canvas by Donald Moffett, which dances with ghost-like images from an overhead projector, shares common ground with the nighttime photos of street hustlers by Stephen Barker. A towering wooden figure of a middle-aged man by Stephen Balkenhol discreetly echoes a portrait by Catherine Opie.
“Our criteria has to do with intellectual, political, aesthetic and formal concerns,” says Hergott, who claims he received early collecting tips from the late Barry Lowen, an exceedingly active producer/collector in 1970s. “The collection is curated in the sense that it’s all about gender, identity and/or the male figure.”
The body, its representation, identity and sexual themes also run rampant through former ABC and Spelling honcho Doug Cramer’s collection. He currently owns more than 600 pieces by some of the most highly regarded artists of the last 50 years, and they, too, reflect Cramer’s own particular worldview.
If you walk into the entryway of his newly remodeled home in Connecticut, for instance, you’ll encounter a life-size portrait by Kurt Kauper at the end of a long hallway. It boldly imagines a cheerful Cary Grant displaying full frontal nudity. And not far from that is a work by the British painter Harlan Miller, who re-creates well-known book covers on large-scale canvases. The one in Cramer’s house resembles a Hemingway title but reads, “I’m So Fucking Hard.”
“Obviously I like humor,” says Cramer, who was famous for his regular industry/art world barn dances at his Trancas Beach house in the ‘70s and ‘80s. “And a lot of contemporary artists are not afraid of making you laugh, which is great. But I’m also very concerned with how well the work is executed, how the textures are handled and the overall form is executed.”
Another impressive collection is Cheech Marin’s grouping of Chicano artists, said to be the most comprehensive in the world. At the moment it’s drawing sellout crowds across the country in a traveling show aptly titled “Chicano.’
“I get so much from having these paintings in my house,” says Marin, who married a painter, Patti Heid, several years ago. “It’s like really good music. It resonates all the time. Every time I’m in the same room, I get that positive, resonant tone — like music. It just keeps giving.”
That mirroring effect may also be why so many collectors refuse to advertise their collections. Privacy, of course, is a precious commodity in Hollywood, and some of Hollywood’s biggest collectors — Geffen, Martin, Arthur Cohen, Scott Rudin, Joel Silver, James Burrows — would rather chew glass than share their most cherished possessions with strangers. (Irving Blum, for one, finds that attitude “extremely unhealthy.” As he says, “You can’t see what they collect, it’s all on their terms. And collecting is, and should be, a two-way street.”)
Cramer remembers the time he gave a museum group a tour of his home while he was president of MOCA’s board of trustees. The group was from Denver, where “Dynasty” was set, and they had heard about his selection of Lichtensteins, Johns, Kellys and Warhols. Cramer was packing for a trip when they arrived, so he didn’t participate in the tour until the end, when a woman asked if he could comment on the collection.
“So I spent several minutes explaining the work,” continues Cramer. “And then a woman spoke up and thanked me for graciously opening up my house. And she said it was so remarkable that I was so successful in television and had this great collection, but there was something she couldn’t understand. I asked her, ‘What?’ And she said, ‘How on earth did you ever find the time to paint them all?’ ”
So there’s plenty of ignorance on both sides of the gilded fence, and plenty of humility, too. None of the producers questioned for this story saw any irony in the fact that they pursue a decidedly highbrow passion while often producing mundane, even kitschy, fare. After all, Price made some of the campiest movies ever; Marin is half of Cheech and Chong; Cramer was responsible for “Love Boat” and “Dynasty” (which he describes as “a more refined level of kitsch”); Silver produces movies like “Lethal Weapon” and “Cradle 2 the Grave”; Tom Patchett, who not only collects art, but runs a gallery called Track 16, was the creator of “Alf”; Martin makes dumb laffers like “Cheaper By the Dozen”; and Valentine’s biggest successes at UPN came through wrestling shows.
Valentine justifies the paradox this way: “If you look at today’s art and you look at today’s media, there isn’t a great deal of difference. Artists look at, and are inspired by, the same pop culture as we are. Whether you’re the head of a studio or an artist in Chinatown, we’re all watching the same movies, the same TV shows and the same media. And artists deal with that as much as filmmakers. So I really don’t think there’s that much of a separation of the two.”
It’s a reminder that even Picasso had to have a bathroom. And it may also be why Jack Nicolson has a painting by the great Spaniard in his.