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Wednesday, September 9, 2020

The Los Angeles Home That Defined Modern Art

 

The Los Angeles Home That Defined Modern Art

They began plowing their fortune (Louise’s family money, from textiles) into modern art after visiting the 1913 Armory Show in New York. They befriended artists, ran a Manhattan salon, and decamped to Southern California in 1921 amid financial turmoil. (Mercifully, their bank accounts recovered.) They were “unusually active and creative and collaborative with the people they loved collecting,” says Sherman, the director of London’s Warburg Institute. “These are not just buyers and not just owners. It’s not just a provenance story. It’s an intellectual story and a cultural story.”

It’s a tale that extends beyond modernism. The Arensbergs were key advocates for pre-Columbian art, which they saw as a source for the vanguard art of their time. And Walter endeavored to prove the theory that Francis Bacon was the author of Shakespeare’s plays. While the cryptographer William Friedman, consulted by Walter, lamented the “utter waste of talent, effort, and money,” the project resulted in, Sherman says, “a world-class collection of Renaissance books, and the biggest collection in the world of books by and about Sir Francis Bacon.” That material now resides at the Huntington Library in San Marino.

Dining Room FloorPlan Arensberg House

A floor plan of the dining room in the Arensberg house.
Getty Publications


The modern and ancient American pieces, for their part, ended up at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a bequest they made in 1950 after courtship from other institutions. Louise died in 1953, Walter the following year.

At a moment when so many collectors vie for cookie-cutter assemblages of recent art, with blue-chip names fetching huge sums at auction, the Arensbergs embody a different model. They bought what appealed to them, and they were eager to share it. “There is no modern art museum in California until 1961,” Nelson says. But if you heard about the Arensbergs, you could get in touch and visit. At 7065 Hillside, Hoobler says, they created a “house filled with passions and artworks and interests.”

Surveying the vast array of work they purchased, and the obvious joy they had in installing it together, one has a sense of those passions overtaking them, as inspiration sometimes overtakes artists. “We never proposed or thought to make a collection,” Walter said in an interview from around 1951 published in the book. “We suddenly found ourselves in a fix. We had a lot of things we liked, but we didn’t buy them on a logical scheme or program. If it turned out to be a logical scheme, it was subconscious.”



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