Printer Friendly

The collector.

Byline: Bob Keefer The Register-Guard

Walk into the headquarters of Harsch Investment Properties in downtown Portland and you may think you've found yourself in a contemporary art gallery or a posh design firm rather than a real estate business.

Original paintings cover every wall in the spacious offices, which take up the top three floors of a modern midrise building not far from the Portland Art Museum.

A late Louis Bunce abstract painting hangs next to the elevator. Nearby is a sculpture by Manuel Isquierdo. Wander the corridors a bit and you find works by Michele Russo, Carl Morris, LaVerne Krause, Rick Bartow, Lucinda Parker, C.S. Price - practically a who's who of Oregon art in the mid- to late 20th century and today.

The effect is bright, colorful and cheerful, the opposite of more conventional businesses, whose offices are decorated either like bland convention center hotels or in drab tones that might house a roomful of Bartleby Scriveners.

In a cluttered corner office just past the Bunce painting, Jordan Schnitzer, the president of Harsch, was talking about an original William Wegman photograph he has just acquired.

"He was very loose in setting it up," the businessman said of the artist. "Not controlling at all."

The giant Polaroid photo doesn't show one of Wegman's signature Weimaraner dogs. It was taken, instead, of Schnitzer himself with his two daughters - 9-year-old Arielle and 7-year-old Audria - along with their dog Cookie, at a gallery in Palm Desert where Wegman was showing last March.

"I love work that is whimsical and makes me smile," he said. "And this one does it."

Schnitzer's name should be familiar in Eugene. It's been on the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon since he kicked in a multimillion dollar donation to rescue the museum's lagging remodeling campaign a couple of years ago. A 1973 graduate of the UO, Schnitzer is the only child of Portland philanthropists Harold and Arlene Schnitzer, as in the Schnitzer Concert Hall in downtown Portland.

Art, for Schnitzer, is not a hobby, but a way of life. His and his family's collection of contemporary art prints numbers about 4,000 pieces. He keeps a full-time art curator on the Harsch payroll.

Since 1995, the foundation that holds his and his family's art collections has created exhibitions for or lent works to dozens of museums and galleries throughout the West - from the Tacoma Art Museum, the Portland Art Museum and the UO's Schnitzer to places such as the Yellowstone Art Museum and the Pendleton Center for the Arts.

"He is among the most generous collectors I have ever worked with. He is truly amazing," said John Olbrantz, director of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem.

Olbrantz has put on two shows from Schnitzer's print collection, which he calls "world class, among the best collections I've seen."

For a 2001 show, Schnitzer told Olbrantz to "take anything you need." If the museum wanted a print that wasn't in the collection, Schnitzer said he would try to buy it. Schnitzer helped pay for publishing a catalog. And he underwrote an educational program.

"He's an incredible donor to work with," Olbrantz said. "He genuinely feels that art can transform people's lives."

Schnitzer believes so passionately in art that he puts art on display in the properties his company buys to lease out. He talked about spending $40,000 on art to improve a $12 million building Harsch just bought in Beaverton.

This, he says, isn't charity; it's just good business.

"First off, it's the right thing to do," he says. "With each of our properties we look at it as if it's our own living room. And we're inviting people into the house."

Schnitzer says the company has a responsibility to help its tenants succeed in business - and art can help do that.

"We can't solve their big issues," he said. "But the more we can do to make them feel good about their work, the better they'll do."

The family saga is a literal rags to riches story. Jordan's grandfather Samuel Schnitzer started a scrap business in Astoria in 1908. The one-man operation grew into an industrial giant, Schnitzer Steel.

Harold Schnitzer started Harsch - the name is made up from the first letters of his first and last names - in 1951.

But it was Arlene who introduced the family to art. She began studying art at the Portland Art Museum school when Jordan was in first grade, and soon young Jordan was being baby-sat by an assortment of art students.

"And thus began the magical journey," he said.

At 55, Schnitzer is broad-shouldered, slightly babyfaced, brown haired and pale skinned, an extremely enthusiastic man who dresses formally and is accustomed to moving crisply through his business day.

Aides line up outside his office trying to grab a quick moment of his time. His phone is always ringing and is answered by an assistant who used to work for Lucy Buchanan, former development director of the Portland Art Museum.

Harsch employs 300 people here and in a half dozen regional offices around the West. If any of Schnitzer's employees objects to the fact that he spends about a third of his time on civic and artistic pursuits - he sits or has sat on about two dozen boards - none has had the nerve to tell him so.

"Sometimes my staff complain I'm not as accessible as I could be," he conceded.

On a recent Friday, Schnitzer was getting ready to fly east to visit artist Ellsworth Kelly, a grand old figure of American abstraction, at his home in Spencertown, N.Y. Schnitzer is fond of Kelly's work and is planning a Kelly show from his print collection.

"Call up and get me six bottles of Oregon wine to take back there," he told his assistant. "Something good, you know, $50 a bottle or so."

Schnitzer is very methodical both in business and in art. As he talks he often enumerates points like a college professor expanding on a Powerpoint presentation. Interrupt him and he'll nudge the conversation back on track until his outline has been covered.

"Art speaks to me in three principle ways," he said at one point. "Many works grab me intellectually and won't let go. Andy Warhol's work is a good example of that. The themes are so strong, my wheels are spinning, and it makes me think.

"Number two, I like work that is colorful, so that emotionally I just love it.

"And, three, I love work that is whimsical and makes me smile."

What these three points are leading up to is an explanation of why Schnitzer began collecting art prints instead of paintings. The three principles, he said, apply to art in any medium, and they apply, of course, to prints - art prints, that is, made directly or under supervision of an artist, as opposed to cheap reproductions.

Schnitzer bought his first painting at the age of 14, a small Louis Bunce he got for a couple hundred dollars. He continued to buy Northwest art, mostly guided by the art and artists he had seen through his mother's Fountain Gallery, until he had a change of focus.

About 20 years ago Schnitzer saw a contemporary print show curated by Gordon Gilkey and Bob Kochs at the Augen Gallery in Portland and discovered an entire new world of possibility.

First off, he realized that buying original oil paintings by big name artists was pretty much out of reach, even for him.

"Even if I had wanted to buy a painting by Warhol or by Lichtenstein or by Kelly, I couldn't have afforded it," he said. "The thing that is wonderful about prints is, they are all original. And I get the same enjoyment from looking at a print or a multiple as I get from looking at a painting."

So he turned to prints and discovered an entire new esthetic world in the technologies used since World War II.

"They gave the artists new ways to express new ideas on paper that couldn't be done on canvas," he said. "When you look at a Chuck Close print that's gone through the presses 58 times, that's an amazing technical achievement."

The other benefit of prints, Schnitzer says, is that he has been able to put together a collection of considerable breadth.

He was able, for example, to create the Roy Lichtenstein retrospective now at the Schnitzer Museum entirely from his own collection. He has Lichtenstein's earliest prints and his latest ones, too.

"If we want to do a show of major women artists of the last 50 years, we can do it," he said. "We can do a show of minority artists. There are all kinds of themes."

The bulk of Schnitzer's art collection resides in a basement vault at the Harsch headquarters. There, the art collector walked around one recent afternoon like a kid in a candy store, clearly amazed and delighted at the shelves full of works, alphabetically arranged.

He has about 300 Warhol prints tucked away here and is in the process of buying more. The vault doesn't contain only prints; a Jasper Johns lead relief that Schnitzer bought at auction at Christie's last year sat out on a cart, and the collector stopped to fondle it with obvious affection.

Schnitzer collects art to show it, not to own it. Having art in the vault and never bringing it out, he says, would be like writing a novel that was never published.

But that doesn't mean he lacks attachment. When he walked into the gallery at the Schnitzer Museum and saw the Lichtenstein show actually on the walls for the first time, he literally had tears in his eyes.

And yet he barely believes the art is really his.

"If I closed my eyes and put my finger on the list of works in the collection and picked one out blindfolded and could only keep that one, I would be the luckiest guy in the world," he said. "Just to have one of them. The reality is, I don't own them. I may have legal title. But none of us owns ideas."
COPYRIGHT 2006 The Register Guard
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Arts & Literature; For the namesake of the UO museum, art is a way of life
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 17, 2006
Words:1696
Previous Article:For a teen headed down the wrong path, caring will go along way.
Next Article:ART NOTES.
Topics:


Related Articles
Renovated UO museum an arts hub.
Couple create endowment, scholarship.
UO MUSEUM GETS NEW NAME.
Gallery will open a pair of exhibits this Friday.
UO art museum welcomes $1 million gift.
Visual arts play key role in the vision for our community.
For the Schnitzer, WHICH WAY?
The mad potter returns.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |