LA Louver, Inc., Venice
Acquired from the above by the present owner, March 31, 1995
Property from the Collection of Betty Freeman
As an arts patron and collector, Betty Freeman was unrivalled for her fiercely passionate advocacy of the new. A prodigious sponsor of classical music and a passionate and discerning collector of art, she was a legend of her time even though she preferred to shun the spotlight. Beginning in the 1960s, she became a luminary of the Los Angeles cultural landscape, actively fostering the burgeoning art and contemporary classical music scene there, and supporting artists who would gain important international reputations and ultimately change the shape of contemporary culture. Committed with an almost religious zeal to the ideal of contemporaneity in virtually every aspect of life - from the architecture and decor she surrounded herself with to the fashions she wore to the art she collected and the music she promoted - she confessed to the New York Times in the late nineties that, "I've always been interested in the new, and don't understand why everybody isn't." The reason, she added, was that "I like complexity, challenge, ambiguity, abstraction."
The young David Hockney brilliantly captured Freeman's assertively modern spirit in his famed 1966 painting Beverly Hills Housewife. Surrounded by the cutting-edge modernist architecture of her home, which gleams in the shimmering light and open air of Los Angeles, Freeman is regally poised as the ultimate embodiment of contemporary glamour and luxury, a California dream come to life. Yet the title of Hockney's epic portrait, which casts Freeman in the role of simply a housewife, ironically and even humorously belies the complex character of its subject and the multifarious roles she played in the avant-garde cultural landscape.
Freeman had moved to California in 1950 to raise a family after graduating from Wellesley College and it was during the fifties that she became a collector, first of Abstract Expressionist art, befriending major figures such as Clyfford Still and Sam Francis. It was her art-world connections that led her to her first sponsorship of avant-garde musicians, ultimately resulting in five decades of generous support for a distinguished roster of experimental composers and offered over 400 grants to young and talented musicians to develop new works. Many of her beneficiaries proved to be highly influential and even visionary figures, among them John Cage, Philip Glass, John Adams, Pierre Boulez, La Monte Young and Lou Harrison, to name but a few. Grateful for her rare and exuberant generosity at critical stages of their careers, Freeman was immortalized in music by many of the composers she championed - among the works specifically dedicated to her are Cage's "The Freeman Etudes," Adams's opera "Nixon in China" and a number of works by Steve Reich.
Likewise, Freeman's close friendships with visual artists flourished thanks to her indefatigable support and enthusiasm for their latest experimentations. Her collection bears witness to her friendships with artists as diverse as David Hockney, Sam Francis, Dan Flavin and Joseph Cornell, while a perusal of the impressive provenances of works in her collection makes abundantly clear that she was an early supporter of many of the artists she favored, in a number of cases purchasing works directly from the artists. Moreover, the frequent appearance of works from her collection in important museum shows is yet another testament to her perspicacity in selecting significant and revealing works by the artists she admired.
Looking through Freeman's choices in artworks, it is clear that her collection was a highly personal one. The works speak of her complexity, ranging from the lushly expressive Francis painting Grey to the hard-edge minimalism of Donald Judd to the conceptual gambits of Bruce Nauman and the playful Pop styles of Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg. Her worship of all that was challenging and abstract found expression not only in works by minimalists such as Flavin and Judd but also in a particularly abstracted Hockney cityscape or a virtually minimalist Oldenburg sculpture of two baseball bats. Yet her sense of joie de vivre and embrace of sensual richness also clearly found voice in her collection, through works such as Lichtenstein's vivacious Frolic and the high-keyed colors of Warhol's portrait of Man Ray. Meanwhile, her sense of humor was made palpable in choices such as Nauman's tounge-in-cheek Do It Right or Oldenburg's monumental Typewriter Eraser.
These and other works, including her portrait by Hockney, surrounded Freeman in her Beverly Hills abode, the very same home in which Hockney depicted her. Her art-filled home also provided a stage for Freeman's legendary salons of the 80s and early 90s, where artists, composers and other luminati of Los Angeles mingled and listened to the latest offerings of both new and established composers that Freeman championed. Together, the works from the Freeman collection form a portrait of a collector who was intrepid, vivacious, generous in spirit, and profoundly engaged with the thrill of the ceaseless forward march of contemporary culture. Freeman's intent gaze, as immortalized in Hockney's spectacular portrait, was forever fixed on the future.
London, Royal Academy of Arts; Hamburg, Hamburger Kunsthalle; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, David Hockney: A Drawing Retrospective, November 1995-January 1996, no. 152 (illustrated).
New York, Carnegie Hall, Betty Freeman Music People, Photographs, September 2003-June 2004, p. 10 (illustrated).
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; London, National Portrait Gallery, David Hockney Portraits, February 2006-January 2007, no. 94 (illustrated).