Beloved Art Collector and Philanthropist Melva Bucksbaum Dies at 82

She was the donor behind the Whitney Museum's $100,000 Bucksbaum Award.

Melva-Bucksbaum-collecting
Melva Bucksbaum. Photo: Copyright © 2014 Patrick McMullan Company, Inc.

Patron of the arts Melva Bucksbaum has died. After dreaming as a child of becoming an artist, she went on to serve on numerous museum boards and distinguish herself as an avid art collector known for scouring galleries for young talent. She was 82. The cause was bladder cancer.

Bucksbaum was a “divine, generous, singular soul,” photographer Todd Eberle wrote today on Instagram.

“We can be, be, and be better, because you existed,” wrote Whitney Museum of American Art board co-chair Brooke Garber Nedich on Instagram.

Regularly listed as one of the world’s top contemporary art collectors (including in artnet News’ Top 200 Art Collectors Worldwide) and a trustee of New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art for two decades, including a stint as vice chairman, she was also the patron behind the museum’s Bucksbaum Award. Given since 2000 to one artist in each Whitney Biennial, the award includes $100,000 and a Whitney exhibition. Winners include Mark Bradford, Omer Fast, and Zoe Leonard.

Bucksbaum also served on the boards of the Jewish Museum and the Drawing Center, both in New York, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.

She and her husband, former commodities trader Raymond Learsy, whom she married in 2001, formed a powerful duo of art collectors and philanthropists. She was connected to General Growth Properties, a Chicago-based mall developer and real-estate investment trust founded by brothers Martin and Matthew Bucksbaum; Martin Bucksbaum was her first husband, whom she married in 1967 and who died in 1995.

While they are well known for collecting contemporary artists such as Vanessa Beecroft, Gregory Crewdson, Nan Goldin, Robert Mapplethorpe, David Salle, Richard Serra, Terry Winters, and Su-en Wong, they also owned works by Henri Matisse and Peter Paul Rubens, along with Impressionist artists. Francesco Clemente painted a memorable portrait of her and her husband in 2004-2005.

Talking to the Wall Street Journal in 2014, Bucksbaum expressed her enthusiasm for artists such as Rosa Loy, Neo Rauch, Mika Rottenberg, and Laurie Simmons.

“They support artists,” artist Pat Steir told the New York Times in 2003, speaking of Bucksbaum and Learsy. “They buy according to their hearts, and they have good ones.”

Related stories:

Melva Bucksbaum Reveals Her Recent Art Buys

artnet News Top 200 Art Collectors Worldwide for 2015

Zoe Leonard Wins Whitney’s Bucksbaum Award With Her Giant Camera Obscura


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