By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“I’m sure my helping Glimcher in the film area didn’t hurt me in getting art,” Ovitz later acknowledged.
Ovitz put an addition atop his Brentwood Park mansion to serve as an art gallery. Built onto the second story, it was a secluded room, painted pure white, with a raised ceiling and enclosed in a glass dome with electronic louvers. The art gallery became a regular attraction for dining guests and Ovitz would act like a professor leading a group of tourists through the Louvre.
With the 1989 opening of CAA’s new I.M. Pei–designed headquarters, Ovitz now had not just one, but two grand showplaces for his art. He painstakingly mapped out which artwork would grace the CAA atrium lobby. Glimcher had the idea to hire Roy Lichtenstein to paint the giant mural, but instead of going to Leo Castelli, Lichtenstein’s longtime dealer, Ovitz went around him. “He tried to go straight to Lichtenstein and make the deal with him,” Castelli said. “He didn’t succeed in my case.”
Ovitz’s next move was almost as outrageous. He decided that the price for the CAA mural should be based on size, and, since his canvas was only half as high as Lichtenstein’s Equitable Life Insurance Building mural in NYC, he should only have to pay half as much. Explained Castelli: “I had to get the help of Arne Glimcher for him to see that I couldn’t do that.” Even so, Castelli said, Ovitz paid a bargain price of $1 million for the mural, based on Oskar Schlemmer’s 1932 Bauhaus Stairway. “But money is not always the main factor. Roy was pleased having it there,” Castelli noted.
In fact, Castelli himself was disappointed with the mural’s ultimate placement. In the Equitable building, there was plenty of room for the public to view Lichtenstein’s mural from afar. Ovitz had pledged the same viewpoint for the mural at CAA. Instead, people who came into the lobby were placed just a few feet from the Lichtenstein, so they had no perspective on the mural. It was smack in their face. Castelli said it was not what Ovitz had promised.
Ovitz acknowledged to me that except for the Litchenstein, Castelli wouldn’t do business with him.
Ovitz also decided the lobby needed an original sculpture by Joel Shapiro, a celebrated minimalist artist whom Ovitz had learned was also his second cousin through their mothers. Ovitz called Shapiro’s representative, Paula Cooper, who ran one of the most respected galleries in SoHo. A gentle, soft-spoken woman, Cooper had little to do with Hollywood. And even less to do with Hollywood collectors. She didn’t know who Ovitz was, nor did she care. But the blood relationship between collector and artist interested both Ovitz and Cooper. Eventually, Ovitz came into Cooper’s gallery in New York, and she in turn saw him on a trip to Los Angeles. “He was extremely kind,” she recalled, “and put a car at my disposal one day. I went to see his collection.”
Soon Ovitz bought something small of Shapiro’s, as did CAA partner Ron Meyer. Ovitz even took Cooper out to lunch one day and explained that they should build a better relationship because, he said, “we do the same thing,” she recalled. Ovitz wanted to place a Shapiro prominently in CAA’s lobby. And that’s when the trouble started. “There wasn’t a problem for quite a few years,” recalled Cooper. “And then a problem developed, and his behavior was absolutely extraordinary. I was so shocked.”
Ovitz wanted to commission Shapiro but at cost. He wanted to pay nothing to Cooper as Shapiro’s dealer, and also refused to allow Shapiro to make an artist’s piece of the work. Under normal circumstances, cast bronzes are done in editions, so that the artist can retain at least one. But Ovitz wanted a unique piece, which Cooper felt was ridiculous considering the low price he wanted to pay.
As he had with Castelli, Ovitz tried to circumvent Cooper and deal directly with Shapiro, on the grounds that they were “family.” Shapiro was eager to do the sculpture but told Ovitz a commission would have to be paid to Cooper. Ovitz, according to Cooper, became furious. Ovitz was on the telephone to her and, in several conversations, “bullying, screaming, hollering,” she recalled. “He behaved like a child.” Cooper was amazed. “The idea that someone felt they were so powerful that they could threaten me... He had nothing to do with my life. What could he do?” she wondered. In the end, Shapiro did do the sculpture and he kept a cast of it. But Cooper was out of luck. She received a fax from Ovitz’s attorney informing her that in their view the commission was satisfied.
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