Florida’s Norton Museum Nabs a ‘Transformative’ Gift of More Than 100 Works by Contemporary Art’s Biggest Names

Museum leaders say the gift from Howard and Judie Ganek is on par with its founding collection from Ralph Norton.

The new facade of the Norton Museum of Art, designed by Foster + Partners, image courtesy of Foster + Partners (2018).
The new facade of the Norton Museum of Art, designed by Foster + Partners, image courtesy of Foster + Partners (2018).

The Norton Museum of Art in Wast Palm Beach, Florida, has dramatically expanded its Modern and contemporary art holdings in one fell swoop. The museum announced today that it has received a promised gift of more than 100 works from the collection of Palm Beach residents Howard and Judie Ganek. Collecting, it seems, is a family tradition: The couple are the parents of hedge-fund manager and top collector David Ganek.

The gift includes works by some of the biggest and most coveted names in contemporary art: paintings by Damien Hirst, Anselm Kiefer, Sigmar Polke, Ed Ruscha, and Kara Walker; sculpture by Theaster Gates, Donald Judd, Anish Kapoor, Mario Merz, Juan Muñoz, and Kiki Smith; and photo-based work by Matthew Barney, Nan Goldin, Cindy Sherman, Lorna Simpson, Pipilotti Rist, Bill Viola, and William Wegman, among many others.

Promised gift by Howard L. and Judie Ganek to the Norton Museum of Art. Photo by Jacek Gancarz.

Promised gift by Howard L. and Judie Ganek to the Norton Museum of Art. Photo by Jacek Gancarz.

A selection of the works will be on view when the museum unveils its high-profile expansion in February 2019. The new design by Norman Foster will add a new entrance and increase education space by 50 percent and exhibition space by 37 percent, allowing for more special exhibitions and an expanded permanent collection display. (The museum will close for construction in July.)

In addition to the display of works from the Ganek collection, the Norton will reopen with an exhibition on camera-less photography, a solo exhibition of work by artist Nina Chanel Abney (the latest in the museum’s Recognition of Art by Women, or RAW series, dedicated to contemporary art by women), and a presentation of watercolors collected by Ralph Norton.

The project will also feature new public gardens, the first to be designed by Foster. It will house nearly a dozen Modern and contemporary sculptures, including Claes Oldenburg’s giant Typewriter Eraser, Scale X (1998–99). Hope Alswang, the museum’s director, made a comparison to the old Joni Mitchell song, “Big Yellow Taxi.” “We ripped up a parking lot to make paradise,” she told guests at a press luncheon in New York. “It’s Florida. I swear to god if you plant a pencil and water it, in a year you’ll have tree.”

Promised gift by Howard L. and Judie Ganek to the Norton Museum of Art. Photo by Jacek Gancarz.

Promised gift by Howard L. and Judie Ganek to the Norton Museum of Art. Photo by Jacek Gancarz.

Museum leaders have described the Ganeks’ gift as on par with the original seed collection donated by the institution’s namesake, the industrialist Ralph Norton, in 1941. In the past, the Norton has been best known for its holdings of Impressionism, 20th-century American and European painting, and Chinese art. 

“The Ganeks are donating works of art not represented in the collection,” said Cheryl Brutvan, the curator of contemporary art. “Something like Sigmar Polke would be absolutely impossible to consider for the museum’s acquisition budget.”

Promised gift by Howard L. and Judie Ganek to the Norton Museum of Art. Photo by Jacek Gancarz.

Promised gift by Howard L. and Judie Ganek to the Norton Museum of Art. Photo by Jacek Gancarz.

The gift will make the museum a destination for contemporary art in South Florida, where competition for such material is fierce. (In addition to a strong lineup of private museums founded by contemporary art collectors, Miami alone is home to three public institutions that specialize in the field.) 

Speaking to artnet News, the Ganeks couldn’t agree on how long they had been collecting. Was it 25 years, or 40? Was their first piece by Louis Valtat, or Cindy Sherman? “We were thinking, ‘what are we going to do with all of art?'” said Judie Ganek. “Howard decided one day, and he didn’t even tell me!”

She admitted that they typically make more of an effort to visit museums in New York, where they spend half the year, than the Norton. The couple is excited about the transformative power of their gift for the Florida museum, Judie Ganek added: “I think the museum is going to be fabulous.”

Additional reporting by Sarah Cascone. 


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