COLLECTORS WITH PANACHE
Portrait of Emily
The Fisher Landau Center for Art is Emily Fisher Landau's
insightful selection of contemporary works in a serene space.
|By Diana Mehl
Emily Fisher Landau with Andy Warhol's 1982 Portrait of Emily Fisher Landau.
|In 1991 philanthropist and arts patron Emily Fisher Landau opened an elegant 25,000-square-foot exhibition and study
facility in a former harness factory in Long Island City to house her
burgeoning collection of contemporary art. This year the Fisher Landau
Center for Art is celebrating its 15th anniversary and continuing
commitment to new artists with the publication of her new book We
Had Such a Good Time: The Memories of Emily Fisher Landau and exciting
The core of the 1,100-work collection spans 1960 to the present. It
contains key works by artists who have shaped the most significant art of
the last 40 years, including Donald Baechler, Jasper Johns, Donald Judd,
Agnes Martin, Robert Rauschenberg, Susan Rothenberg, Ed Ruscha, Kiki
Smith, Andy Warhol and Cy Twombly.
“The collection is a portrait of Emily,” says Bill Katz, the collection's
curator and a close friend and art advisor of Ms. Landau's. “She has an
instant response to art. Things either sing to her or they don't.”
In an interview with Panache, Emily Fisher Landau reminisces about
collecting art and the artists she has met.
When did you first start collecting art?
I was always interested in art, but I started collecting seriously in the
sixties. I was married to Martin Fisher, who really didn't know the first
thing about art. He would say that he made the money and I knew what
to do with it. I always felt that it was the greatest compliment I ever got
in my whole life.
I met Arne Glimcher at the Pace Gallery, and he had lined up three
fantastic paintings: a Picasso, a Leger and a Kline. I thought if my
husband would buy just one of these for me I would be the luckiest girl
in the world. He bought all three. Absolutely incredible! That was the
beginning of my getting into serious collecting. But then along came Bill
[Katz], and we really had a good time.
Bill Katz encouraged your interest in contemporary art. Can
you discuss how that relationship evolved?
We first worked together on the design of my apartment. We slowly
started collecting Warren McArthur furniture, of which I now probably
have the largest collection in existence.
Bill suggested I start looking at the works of young artists. He felt
it would not only open a life for me that I did not have then, but it
would open a life for them. He knew everyone, and took me through the
Bowery, SoHo and Tribeca to meet the artists. He introduced me to Jasper
Johns when he had a studio near Houston Street. The painting that I got
that day was Usuyuki. When I walked in I said to Bill, “Do you think I
can have that one?” And he said, “Yes, that's the one we came to see.”
It's so beautiful.
You have known most of the artists whose work you collected.
Can you share some anecdotes about those meetings?
I knew Ed Ruscha. One day the late Kirk Varnedoe (chief curator of
Painting and Sculpture at MoMa) asked me if I'd go with him to see
an Ed Ruscha painting the museum was considering buying. Of course
I was honored that he even asked me. We walked into a warehouse in
SoHo and he said, “Well, what do you think, Emily?” I said I wouldn't
buy it, meaning it wasn't good enough for the museum. That's strictly
the eye. It wasn't as good as I knew Ruscha was capable of doing. The
museum had to have the best, which they later got.
I love Matthew Barney. I'm very fortunate to own as many of his works
as I do. I have a triptych of Matthew underwater, and he actually took
that in Florida. I got to know him because he wanted to borrow a couple
of pieces of McArthur furniture for his Cremaster 3 movie. I thought
he would borrow one or two pieces, but he wound up borrowing my
You have a famously instinctual knack for spotting great
artwork. How do you account for this?
A friend of mine is a great student of the opera. When we go together to
the opera, I'll ask her, “What makes this singer better than the others?
They all sound good to me.” She can differentiate. I can do that visually.
I have that gift. My eye guides me when I walk into a gallery. I know
immediately. It isn't something you learn. I was fortunate that I was able
to do something with this gift.
You've said in your book that Andy Warhol is your favorite
artist. Can you talk about your portraits by him?
He made the fi rst one in 1982. One day Bill took me to the Brooklyn
Museum and I saw Andy's portrait of Jane Fonda. I said, “Now that's a
good picture. Mine is just a pretty picture. I don't want a pretty one; I
want a very good one.” Then one day Bill and I ran into him on Madison
Avenue. Andy said, “I know you're not happy with your picture. Call my
secretary, make an appointment and I'll redo it.” He never asked for the
first one back, and he never charged me for the second one. I always love to
tell that story because, to me, it shows that Andy was a gentleman
Why did you decide to open your Center for Art?
As I purchased more art, I said to Bill, “I'm collecting this wonderful art
that I never get to see.” That's when we realized we had to make a big
move. So we started looking at spaces. Bill was working at a foundry in
Long Island City, so that's how I got to know this area.
Then I went to Europe and visited every privately owned museum. I
was very impressed with the Saatchi collection in London. Max Gordon
designed the building, and Bill and I decided to get him to do the Center.
Max was brilliant. He designed my building so each floor could function
on its own. He simplified all the viewing spaces and built beautifully
proportioned, calm, clear spaces. At the beginning it was like my living
room, which wasn't big enough. People made an appointment to see the
art, and I would meet them as if I were at home. At some point I realized
it had grown into something for the future. It wasn't a plan.
|Work by Carl Andre, Norah Deacon, Robert Gober, Mark Innerst,
Jasper Johns, Glenn Ligon and Agnes Martin, among others.
OPENING SPRING 2007
Fisher Landau Center for Art,
Long Island City, NY
Landau has the largest collection of machine-age (1930s) tubular aluminum furniture
by Warren McArthur (1885 – 1961), seen in the library (above) and throughout the Center.
Andy Warhol, Myths, 1981. Silkscreen ink over synthetic polymer on canvas.
Collection of the Fisher Landau Center
Matthew Barney, Cremaster 3: Lodge of the Entered Apprentice, 2002. 3 C-prints in acrylic frames, Detail of right panel. Collection of the Fisher Landau Center
Ross Bleckner, Galaxy With Birds, 1993, Oil on linen. Collection of the Fisher Landau Center for Art.
Peter Cain, 500 SL #1, 199,
Oil on linen. Collection of the Fisher Landau Center
Richard Prince, Man Crazy Nurse #3, 2003
Ink jet and acrylic on canvas. Collection of the Fisher Landau Center
Images 1,2,4-7: Courtesy of Fisher Landau Center for Art; Image 3: © Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / ARS, NY. Courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York