Exhibition Shares Highlights of Berkus Collection

By Scott Craig   |   November 22, 2022
John Walker’s oil painting “The Centre, #2”

The Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art shares the deep trove of art collected by the late Barry Berkus, an architect, urban planner, watercolor artist, and author, in A Bold and Unconventional Collector: Highlights from the Barry Berkus Family Collection, which will be on display from November 17 to December 12. The public is invited to a free opening reception Thursday, November 17, from 4-6 pm at the museum. 

Born in Los Angeles in 1935, Berkus grew up in Pasadena before pursuing his undergraduate education at UC Santa Barbara. He then studied architecture, graduating from the School of Architecture at USC, returning to Santa Barbara in the 1970s to open a practice. During his career he established two design firms: B3 Architects and Berkus Design Studio. In their heyday, his architectural firms had more than 200 architects with offices in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Washington, Atlanta, Miami, Tokyo, and Kuala Lumpur. 

Berkus loved art – especially the art of his time. He attended museum and gallery openings, always open to learning and to meeting artists and purchasing works that caught his eye. He was an intrepid collector, attracted to the most avant-garde works in an artist’s oeuvre.

“He favored art that was experimental – art that explored unusual ideas,” says Jeff Berkus, Barry’s son and also an architect, “He was a bold and unconventional art collector.”

Barry Berkus, who died in 2017, collected art by David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Frank Stella, and Andy Warhol. But he also loved finding new talent – international artists who might not be big names yet in the United States. Berkus also supported Santa Barbara artists purchasing works by artists like Tony Askew, Marie Schoeff, Dane Goodman, Wayne McCall, Keith Puccinelli, Mary Heebner, Marge Dunlap, and others.

The exhibition highlights selections from a major gift from the Berkus Family Collection to the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art, plus purchases made from the Berkus collection and noteworthy pieces that remain in the Berkus Family Collection.  

“The Berkus Family had the daunting task of dealing with Barry’s huge art collection after his death,” says Judy L. Larson, Askew professor of art history and museum director. “What I love about the gifts the family made to Westmont is the variety and quality of talented artists from all over the world. As an architect, Berkus’ eye gravitated to works rooted in architecture like Iwan Baan, Stephen Talasnik, Michael Kenna, and Benjamin Edwards.”

Larson is most impressed with a stunning, large canvas by British painter John Walker, an abstract expressionist work by Michael David, and a photograph of a land art piece by Andy Goldsworthy, who visited Santa Barbara on the invitation of Berkus.

“What I respect about Berkus is that he trusted his own eye,” says Chris Rupp, curator and collections manager. “As an architect he had modernist sensibilities and that carried over into his collecting. He wasn’t someone to follow collecting trends but sought out innovative artists who personally appealed to him.” 

“His enthusiasm for contemporary art was contagious,” says Tony Askew, who has a piece in the Berkus collection. “It was always a pleasure to talk with Barry about what was happening in the art world. He seemed to sparkle with excitement about a new artist he had met or a work he had just purchased.” 


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