On a trip to Paris in the early ’70s, tired of the monument and bar circuit, retail magnate-turned-real estate developer Ron Pizzuti wandered into a gallery in the Montmartre district and came across a Frank Stella Sinjerli Variation that changed his life. “It was beautiful. I was just attracted to it immediately. Well, everything but the price,” recalls Pizzuti, whose art world experience up until that point was “non-existent,” admittedly. “I grew up in a household where we had The Last Supper hanging over the dining room table, lots of family pictures and a Brentwood farm landscape, which came from Woolworth’s in a plastic frame. And that was about it.”
The experience prompted Pizzuti to research Stella at the New York Public Library on a routine business trip, and soon, he was stopping by exhibitions at Arne Glimcher’s Pace Gallery on 57th Street. As luck would have it, Pace had a satellite in his own hometown of Columbus, Ohio, run by Glimcher’s mother, Eva.
Ron Pizzuti and his wife, Ann
“[Eva] got all the artists Pace showed in New York,” says Pizzuti. “She worked very hard to sell very good contemporary art in our city with very limited success.” Pizzuti fell within that select group, buying his first artwork from Eva—a Karel Appel print—in installments. She took Pizzuti under her wing, inviting him to dinners with the likes of Louise Nevelson, Jim Dine and Andy Warhol, who once painted a silkscreen of Eva Glimcher.
“There was a Polynesian restaurant called the Kahiki Supper Club. It no longer exists, but it was very fancy, very authentic, very kitschy, and [Andy] loved it, ” recalls Pizzuti. “I don’t know if he came [to Columbus] to see Eva or go to the Kahiki, but that’s where he went, and we got invited to several dinners. It was just part of my education meeting these folks. I learned a lot from Eva because she allowed us to get exposed.”
A lot is a big understatement. With the jam-packed September 6th opening of the Pizzuti Collection, a three-story museum off the tony Goodale Park in Columbus’ up-and-coming Short North arts district, the titular mega-collector (recently ranked amongst the world’s top 200 by ArtNews) is now hell-bent on educating and exposing several new generations of Ohioans to the same artistic awakenings. In the gut-renovated, 1923-classical manse, which formerly served as the headquarters for the United Commercial Travelers insurance company, Pizzuti and curator Rebecca Ibel unveiled two exhibitions: “Inaugural Exhibition: Looking Forward and Looking Back” and “Cuban Forever,” a recent exploration into the rising stars of Havana’s art scene. (There’s even a deftly-curated sculpture garden, which was a hit at the opening).
View of “Cuban Forever” exhibition: Celaya (“The Becoming or The Wagon,” 2011); Fernandez (“Stacked Smoke,” 2005); Arrechea (“The Last Trip to the Future,” 2009)
“Cuban Forever” includes artists like Yoan Capote and Alexandre Arrechea, who recently led a panel at the gallery on the island’s art scene. For its part, the “Inaugural” show will explore choice pieces from Pizzuti’s extensive collections of early favorites like Stella and Jim Hodges, along with newer discoveries such as Brooklyn tattoo artist-turned-sculptor Duke Riley or the exploded flower stills and videos of Israeli photographer Ori Gersht, who will be the subject of an extensive solo show next fall.
View of “Inaugural” exhibition featuring work by Jim Hodges
And you won’t find a strict narrative like you would at Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation. “We collect one piece at a time unlike a lot of these private collections that become public,” Pizzuti says. Ibel adds, “What’s different about what we bring is that this is all very personal to Ron. These are artists he believes in; this collection literally came out of his living room, so it’s a little less institutional that way.”
Institutional or not, the Collection is merely Pizzuti’s opening gambit in a four-phase development that will include a 130-room, Starwood-operated hotel dubbed Le Meridien Columbus, The Joseph. Scheduled to open across the street from the museum later next year, the hotel is intended to lure international visitors to Columbus’ budding art scene, which includes the pioneering Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus College of Art and Design, and the august Columbus Museum of Art. The hotel itself will be an art destination featuring major works from the collection, some commissions and works on paper (available for purchase) in every room by ascendant Ohio artists like Linda Gall, Sarah Fairchild and Steven Bindernagel. “We haven’t ever really collected Ohio artists, but I was blown away with the quality,” says Pizzuti. Joking, he adds, “If you steal your robe at some hotels, you get billed $75. It you steal the art off the wall here, it’s $500.”
All told, Pizzuti hopes the range of offerings will create experiences similar to his Montmartre epiphany for aficionados and students, who get free admission to the museum. “What we want it to do is educate and expose the community at large, and we’re going to put a lot of emphasis on getting to the kids.” Especially the ones who’ve never experienced art beyond that Last Supper painting over the dining room table.
Click through the gallery to see more art from the exhibitions.
(Photos: Museum interiors by Alan Geho, Ralphoto Studio; Pizzuti portrait by Scott Cunningham Photograph).