by Megan Leigh Barnard

State of the Art

At this summer’s Go Figure exhibition, the Pizzuti Collection featured a number of works that dealt with the human  body in all forms, shapes, sizes, and colors. Not only was it a show that challenged perception, but engaged audiences in conversations about race, aging, sexuality, and social media obsession. At its center was Kehinde Wiley’s Bound, a monolithic bronze sculpture that features busts of  three African-American women, connected in the center by their hair. It was stunning in its display, but also emblematic of what Ron and Ann Pizzuti have hoped to achieve in showcasing their collection: furthering Columbus as an arts destination by bringing in not just the freshest in contemporary art and artists, but changing how we now engage with that art.

“We believe that art fosters wider cultural understanding and educational exchange, and we work to champion diverse voices from around the globe,” Ron said. “Artists have a unique ability to translate the current socio-political state, and the work that they do invites viewers to reflect about their community and themselves. Art is fundamental to the development of the individual and the cultural health of the community, especially in these turbulent social and political times.”

When the Pizzutis began collecting in the early ’70s, the mission wasn’t that lofty. With the purchase of a Karel Appel print from the Pace Gallery, their hobby began in earnest. Eventually they moved to paintings, adding a piece from Frank Stella, which was a “financial stretch,” and then to other modern masters, including Willem de Kooning, Jean Dubuffet, and Agnes Martin. But anyone who has visited the Pizzuti Collection since it opened in 2013, knows that the Pizzutis’ passion has been in fostering the careers of emerging artists. The true value of the collection comes in the relationships they form with the artists, becoming intimate with them in the early stages of their careers, many of whom have gone on to wide acclaim in the art world.

This month, the Pizzuti Collection will celebrate five years in its permanent home on Park Street, and in that short span the building has cemented itself as a landmark among other Columbus art institutions, hosting 16 exhibitions featuring 200 artists from 40 different countries. For the anniversary, the Pizzuti Collection will showcase even more envelope-pushing presentations, artist talks, and educational outreach, that has been the foundation since opening.

“What we have done from the very beginning is think ahead,” says chief curator Greer Pagano. “We are always wondering how are we going to show the range of what Ron and Ann have collected over time, and what we are going to do next. So these shows are not anything particularly linked to the anniversary, as much as they are keeping the ball rolling and continuing on what we’ve accomplished.”

In that effort to open up the collection even more, When Attitudes Become Chairs, will focus on the Pizzutis’ keen interest in design. Co-curated by New York art dealer Marc Benda and Glenn Adamson, the show will display how furniture design has been completely transformed and continues to be held in high regard as a dynamic creative discipline. The Take Up Space exhibition will match a series of abstract paintings with Dark Matter, a massive installation by artist Sarah Cain, which will immerse visitors in a kaleidoscope of color, patterns, and geometric shapes. Finally, the most ambitious of the 2018 shows, For Freedoms, joins in an initiative with artists Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman, that will take place in all 50 states, hoping to encourage “civic engagement, discourse, and direct action” by allowing patrons to create their own lawn signs that express their “definitions of freedom.” Combined, these shows may offer just a glimpse into an expansive collection, that grows by the day, but it also demonstrates how Pagano can curate a reflection of the current social climate and maintain a cutting edge that boldly represents the “now.”

“We can be nimbler here,” say Pagano. “We can try different things and do it. That’s something a lot of institutions don’t have the freedom to do.”

And as for the future of the collection? The next five years? Pizzuti hopes to continue fulfilling his mission to present the city with top-quality contemporary art, and to increase the educational reach of his non-profit organization, but also to expand the role of public art in Columbus, something that many would argue is lacking.

“We are now the 14th largest metropolitan area in the United States, and the only one of that group that does not have a strong publicly-funded art program,” says Pizzuti. “I am hopeful that we will continue to put some muscle and some dollars into strengthening our city’s public arts program.” 

All three of the Pizzuti Collections’ five-year anniversary exhibits will open on Friday, September 7 and run until January 2019. Visit pizzuticollection.org for more information.

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