Nicolas Berggruen has a knack for using his art collecting as a means to generate publicity. The Financial Times played a bit of this game with the “homeless billionaire” over the weekend in an odd hybrid story that was pegged to the re-opening of the museum his father, Heinz, bequeathed to Berlin. But the bulk of the piece is about Nicolas and why he has chosen Los Angeles to receive much of his own collection and collecting efforts:
“It’s a simple idea,” comes his reply in answer to my question about the focus of his own collecting. “I made a commitment to one place, which is Lacma [Los Angeles County Museum of Art]. Why? I live in New York, I love New York, but LA is a young city, a city that is broken up. It has wonderful collectors, but all individual, narcissistic.”
Compared with the federalising civic mood of a city such as Dallas, LA’s geography and ethos, in his view, make it “culturally dysfunctional”. Nicolas feels – although he puts it modestly – that he can help.
“I grew up in Paris but Paris doesn’t need me. Berlin doesn’t need me.” (I long to tell him that London does, but I refrain.) He chose Lacma as a growing place that he admires for its vision and determination under director Michael Govan, whom Berggruen describes as “a builder – dynamic, with a very good eye, and” – that word again – “civic-minded”.
As an encyclopaedic museum that aims to span the centuries and move well beyond western art, it needs, he says, both funds and art.
So how, I ask, does this commitment work? Like his father’s, his acquisitions focus on a small number of contemporary artists of very high quality: one group “happens to be German”; the others from the West Coast. And indeed, the roll-call is as magnificent as his father’s, the aristocracy of today’s art scene: the Europeans are Schütte, Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter and Joseph Beuys, while the American artists number Bruce Nauman (“I consider him one of the greatest living artists”), Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari and – much less well-known in Europe but still, Berggruen feels, “a genius” – Chris Burden.
The Real Ideal, Times Two (Financial Times)