Photograph by Samantha Greer

The Collector

Words by Sarah Betts 

Jordan Schnitzer, along with the Schnitzer Family Foundation Collection, owns over 7,500 works of art—original prints by artists including Andy Warhol, John Baldessari, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Tuttle, Kara Walker, and Chuck Close. Schnitzer has built this collection as a lending library with the commitment to making art available to communities nationwide. Through his foundation, exhibitions are loaned, free of cost, to galleries and museums large and small, with the additional opportunity for these locations to apply for grants from the foundation to fund educational and outreach activities.

This October, as the Kimball Art Center in Park City, Utah, opened the doors of its brand new gallery location, it was Mr. Schnitzer’s art hanging on the freshly painted walls. “When I was asked if I wanted to lend some art for an inaugural show in a new art space in Park City,” says Mr. Schnitzer, “I said, ‘You bet!’ We love the community, we want to be part of the community, and we want to give back. It is my mission to build up a lending library of art so more organizations like the Kimball Art Center can put on exciting exhibitions for the public.”

Since 1976, the Kimball Art Center has had its roots in the historic downtown of Park City. With plans to expand, this not-for-profit organization moved into their temporary location to run programs while their new facility is planned and built. Hardly a layover location, the current Kimball Art Center is spacious and community-friendly, complete with classroom space and ample free parking. “This is a really transformational time for the Kimball Art Center, as we look for ways to grow and evolve to better serve the community we love so much,” says Robin Marrouche, Executive Director of the Kimball Art Center.

Picturing the Iconic: Andy Warhol to Kara Walker, leant by Jordan Schnitzer, is the first exhibition to be on display at the new Kimball Arts Center location. It is an exhibition about icons, from the ordinary soup can in Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup prints, to celebrity portraits by Chuck Close. It will be on display through January 4, 2016. BigLife writer, Sarah Betts, spoke to Schnitzer as the show was opening.

Sarah Betts: You bought your first piece of art at age 14… but was there a time or experience before that when you remember being moved by art or
enthralled by its impact?
Jordan Schnitzer: I was in first grade and an only child when my mother went to the Portland Art Museum Art School, and that was the beginning of this journey. She brought home pastels and oil paint and canvases. Often, other students in the class babysat me. Within three years, my mother opened the Fountain Gallery of Art. And yes, I bought my first piece of art from her gallery at age 14. It was a local artist named Louis Bunce. The piece was called Sanctuary, a Small Study.

I have always thought it highly important that all of us support local artists in our communities because if we don’t, they won’t stay in our communities. After this first purchase, I wanted to continue to contribute to art of our region, the Pacific Northwest, but I also thought it might be fun to buy a few prints from what I call the ‘New York scene’—the national artists. So I bought a few, and a few more, and a few more.

SB: Tell us about your first experience lending your collections for public display.
JS: After I finished law school, I went on the board of the University of Oregon Art Museum. The director of the museum then in 1995 heard that I was buying contemporary prints and asked if they could do an exhibition. I said sure.

To walk in and see art from my collection on display, most of which had been in storage, was incredible. To see the way the curator had     arranged the work, it was like walking into a room of friends even though I had never met any of those artists. I just thought, this doesn’t get any better. But the real turning point was when the kids came in.

I remember there was a young man standing with his father. He was about eight years old and they were in front of a work by an artist called Robert Longow from his series called Men in the City. This work pictured a man in black and white and it’s like he is dancing. So I sat down next to the young boy and said “Hey, what do you think that guy is doing?” You could almost hear the boy’s mind spinning, gears turning, and then he said, “I think he is dancing,” to which I said, “I think you’re right.” If he had said, “I think he’s thinking about the moon,” I would have said, “I think you’re right.” Whatever he would have said was right for him.

If there is anything in this experience that teaches us why art is important, it’s because in a day and age when all of us are being bombarded with messages and media, it raises the question, where do you go to escape the doctrine of this is right and this is wrong, this is success and this is failure? You have two places in my perspective: the outdoors and the arts. Everywhere else, you’re being pushed and pulled and shaped into something that someone else thinks you should be. That is why art is such a refuge for me and why I am trying to get art to less-served communities. It’s so that everyone—the school-aged kid and the dishwasher at a restaurant in Park City—can have the same experience a Park Avenue financier can have seeing Andy Warhol’s work.

SB: It seems a large part of your mission is to make art available to wide populations of people. Can you describe some of your favorite experiences sharing your collections with others?

JS: Let me tell you a little story. We had a show that originated at the Joslyn Art Museum of Omaha. The show eventually traveled to Missoula, and I met with the director of the Missoula Contemporary Art Museum because we would be giving them money to further their outreach program. I asked her about their existing program and she said, “We bring in all the 5th graders from public and private schools in the area, about 1,200 kids.” Then I asked, “How big is Missoula?” She replied, “250,000.” So I inquired about the rest of the community. “We don’t have enough money,” she replied.

My instructions to her were to reach out to the local education department as well as other groups in the community to see who would be interested in seeing the exhibition. We would pay the expenses for all of these groups to come see the show. This included 300 kids from two Indian Reservations in the area: the Kootenai and Salish.

What was so interesting about this exhibition was that it was a collection that included Andy Warhol, Chuck Close, Frankenthaler, Gallagher, Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns, but when the show was picked by Jack Becker from the Joslyn Art Museum, he also picked Joe Fedderson and Rick Bartow, two Native American Northwest artists whom we love. So what I did was gather additional pieces from both those artists to send along with their show. At the time, Rick Bartow was about 75 and I also asked him if he wanted to fly over in our company plane to Missoula to go see his exhibition, and he agreed to come.

For me, the fact that we were able to fund and facilitate this experience for Native American kids and an entire community is just incredible. These kids were seeing Warhol and the rest of the nationally recognized artists for the first time, while seeing Native American artists on the wall right next to them. There is just not enough room in my heart to express the joy that I feel in being lucky enough to facilitate that kind of exhibition.

SB: How do you decide what to collect? What motivates your collection of specific styles
and artists?

JS: It’s like a spring skiing day. You’ve just gotten off the chairlift, and you’re at the top of the mountain and you have so many choices. There are more moguls this way, more sun that way, and the air is crisp and the sky is blue and you say to yourself, “Oh my gosh, which way do I go?” For me, in collecting art I don’t have to think, I just react. Just like whatever inspires you to go left instead of right down the mountain—it’s just an action in the moment.

SB: Do you have a favorite artist or a favorite piece of art?

JS: The last piece I bought. And if you asked me in two more weeks it would be the same answer.

SB: Tell us the story of how this specific show, Picturing
the Iconic, came to be.

JS: It was picked out by an art
museum in Napa, the Sonoma County Art Museum. They had an expansion of their space and selected a collection of works for their inaugural show. This exhibition in particular puts you through the paces of virtually every theme of the last 50 years. The thread is that each of these artists is on those walls because they’ve picked a theme and a different way of expressing that theme than had ever been done before. That is why they’re well respected and in a museum like this. Every single one of them owns their little niche in the art world and that’s why they rose above.

Everyone can be an artist. When we’re young, we sit in the restaurant and draw with crayons on the paper tablecloth and that’s art. To move up, to be in museums across the country and around the world like these artists are, you’ve got to first have a burning theme that you need to get out—some message—and you’ve got to do it in a different way than what’s been done before. You’ve got to have the inventiveness to come up with your own style.

SB: Why do you choose to focus on prints?

JS: First, even if I had the money to buy 40-, 60-, 80-million dollar Warhol paintings, I couldn’t amass a collection in depth of those artists at that price. Even the biggest collectors in the world would have, at most, two or three works by these artists. I’ve tried to build a lending collection so that audiences can walk in and see a full collection—a whole life’s work by the artist—and to me, that is so much more powerful than seeing one or two paintings. You see an artist’s themes and how that artist has progressed.

SB: Three artists you would jump at the chance to go on a long road trip with?

JS: Andy Warhol, Bob
Rauschenberg, and Roy

SB: Words of advice for the next 14-year-old would-be art collector out there?

JS: Art is fun. It’s fun looking at it. It’s fun having it. It’s fun sharing it. It’s fun growing old with it.


Picturing the Iconic:
Andy Warhol to Kara Walker
on display through January 4, 2016