The Greatest Private Collection of Artworks Made in California Was Once a Secret. Now It’s Heading to UC Irvine.

The university received the vast collection of the reclusive late collector Gerald E. Buck.

Stephen Barker, dean of the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at the University of California Irvine shows off some artworks gifted to UCI by Gerald E. Buck. Photo: Steve Zylius/UCI.
Stephen Barker, dean of the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at the University of California Irvine shows off some artworks gifted to UCI by Gerald E. Buck. Photo: Steve Zylius/UCI.

The University of California, Irvine, just became home to perhaps the greatest collection of art made in the great state of California that has ever assembled. The Orange County university has been bequeathed the vast art holdings of reclusive late Newport Beach property developer and collector Gerald E. Buck.

Valued by the museum in the tens of millions of dollars, the majority of the 3,200-piece collection hasn’t been exhibited publicly, with the exception of the occasional museum loan.

Peter Alexander's <i>Thrasher</i>. Photo courtesy University of California, Irvine.

Peter Alexander’s Thrasher. Photo courtesy University of California, Irvine.

“For nearly three decades, these beautiful and important pieces have been kept mostly under wraps,: UCI chancellor Howard Gillman said in a statement. “We can’t wait to exhibit these gems to the public.”

For years Buck had been putting together an exhibition of his collection, planning to debut it to the public for the first time, but he died unexpectedly in 2013 before his plans could come to fruition. Now the works will be made accessible to the public thanks to the Buck family’s gift.

Charles Arnoldi's <i>Backtrack</i> (1991). Photo courtesy of UC, Irvine.

Charles Arnoldi’s Backtrack (1991). Photo courtesy of UC, Irvine.

According to Buck’s daughter Christina, her father wanted his art collection and library both to serve an educational purpose and to remain in Orange County. Fulfilling both prerequisites, UCI was “the perfect match,” she said. “It makes me so happy that the campus now has the works for students, faculty and, ultimately, people who love art—like my father did.”

Encompassing a huge variety of styles and genres ranging from plein air to hard-edge abstraction and figuration, the collection brings together works by towering figures of American art like Richard Diebenkorn, David Park, Joan Brown, Sam Francis, Robert Irwin, Ed Kienholz, and many others.

Stephen Baker, the dean of UCI’s Claire Trevor School of Arts and executive director of the university’s museum, says the gift “instantly puts UCI on the map as the premier collection and study center at the heart of California art.”

Richard Diebenkorn's <i>Albuquerque</i>. Photo courtesy of UC, Irvine.

Richard Diebenkorn’s Albuquerque. Photo courtesy of UC, Irvine.

Malcolm Warner, executive director of the Laguna Art Museum, even described the trove, in the press release, as “undeniably the greatest collection of California art ever assembled in private hands.” Los Angeles dealer Tobey Moss, also in the museum’s statement, said UCI is “so fortunate” to benefit from Buck’s “scholarship, aesthetic sense, and confident eye.”


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