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Blake Byrne with Gordon Matta-Clark’s Office Baroque. Photo by Brian Forrest.
Blake Byrne with Gordon Matta-Clark’s Office Baroque. Photo by Brian Forrest.

MOCA Trustee Susan Gersh Remembers Blake Byrne

Oct 8 2019

Intellect, passion, vision, empathy, energy, taste, generosity, philanthropy, adventurousness, curiosity, and exuberance are just some of the attributes Blake brought to MOCA when he joined the Board in 1999. Blake served on the Executive Committee and chaired the Acquisition and Collections Committee. He was a member of the Audit Committee, Development Committee, Ethics Committee, Strategic Planning Committee, and, in 2011, he received the honor of Lifetime Trustee. Yes, Blake was a very engaged and respected member of MOCA’s Board.

In 2005, Blake generously gave 123 pieces by 78 artists to MOCA’s permanent collection. There was a superb exhibition, The Blake Byrne Collection, of his gift in the same year at MOCA Grand Avenue. Blake’s legacy is the largest single gift from a private collector in MOCA’s history. The gift spanned works from the 1950s to the present and was comprised of local, national, and international artists. A few of the artists are: John Baldessari, Marlene Dumas, Robert Gober, Félix González-Torres, Douglas Gordon, Rita McBride, Paul McCarthy, Juan Muñoz, Claes Oldenburg, Gabriel Orozco, Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, Ed Ruscha, Cindy Sherman, Richard Tuttle, Andy Warhol, and Christopher Williams. All of us at MOCA want to thank Blake’s children, John, Charlotte, and Jocelyn, for this extraordinary gift. They were very close to their father, and we know that such a gift is not done without discussion.

Blake began collecting in 1988, and he never looked back. He was dedicated to contemporary art—the art of his time. He didn’t go out to buy trophies, but his eye was so excellent that many pieces in his collection became very important. Yearly, in Basel, Switzerland, Blake was the first in line to enter the art fair. His route was meticulously planned, and, by our lunch together, a new collection was formed.

Blake loved Los Angeles and believed that by the end of this century, it would be the greatest city in the world. Blake loved MOCA and believed it had one of the finest contemporary art collections and programs in the world. Blake’s gift to MOCA speaks to his love for Los Angeles and the museum. During MOCA’s dark days, Blake stayed committed and engaged, and showed courage by not succumbing to a crowd mentality.

The Afterword in the catalogue for Blake’s exhibition is written by him. “As a collector, there has been no greater joy than to select and live with wonderful, meaningful, and beautiful works of art created by artists who have chosen this medium as their means of communication. It has certainly expanded my interest and deepened my understanding about life! In addition, I have had the joy of knowing and befriending hundreds of people in the great world of art. I thank them all for making my life richer.”

I speak for all of us when I say that knowing Blake has made our lives richer. His big, infectious laugh could brighten up the darkest day. His devotion to family, friends, art, Duke University, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke, MOCA, Paris, Los Angeles, and Democratic politics was inspiring. This interesting and interested man was a GIANT. He had the courage of his convictions and a heart of gold. Blake was an explorer—a man ahead of his time who looked forward as he anticipated and embraced the future.

Blake was my dear friend, and I’ll miss him very much. He led by example and showed me that commitments and passions matter, and that each of us in our own way can make a difference.

This text was adapted from a remembrance Susan Gersh gave at Blake Byrne’s memorial service in the spring of 2019.