Ruth and Theodore Baum fill their homes with the works of artists from all over the globe. Here’s a look at some of their diverse pieces.
Over many decades, both Ruth and Theodore Baum established individual collections, which they later divided between their homes in New York and South Florida. Their selections were motivated by passion, as they traveled the world searching for items they loved. Ruth has been an avid collector of Ming furniture, in particular, and the couple also once amassed an important collection of English Georgian furniture, which was sold at a single-owner sale at Sotheby’s. In time, the couple became collectors of Impressionist works, as well as postwar and contemporary art.
Early on in their marriage, Ruth spotted a small sketch of a nude woman by painter and etcher John Sloan, who was a leading member of the Ashcan School. The work was featured on a television fundraising auction for New York’s Channel 13—price tag $100. Ruth bought it, and for years it sat on the bedside table next to her alarm clock, where she would see it every morning upon waking. She loved it so much, Ted suggested they go on a search for more sketches—and one of those later purchases proved to be a turning point for the Baums as collectors.They bought a sketch at a New York gallery, and no sooner had they returned home when the gallery called to ask if they would be willing to sell it back. They had hardly had a chance to enjoy the piece, but the gallery was offering considerably more money than what they had paid. The deal was done, and it was the catalyst for the next phase of the Baums’ collecting venture. They decided to sell all of their sketches and, with the proceeds, venture into new territory.
They kicked things off with a Mark Rothko painting, Untitled (1967). The red and orange work proudly hangs in the entrance lobby of their Florida home. The sentimental value of the piece—it being their very first painting—puts it at the top of the list for Ruth when asked which piece she would rescue in the unfortunate event of a fire.
The Baums turned to the great curator and art dealer Jeffrey Deitch for guidance, but Ted soon decided he wanted to do his own research. Ruth tells how they came to acquire Roy Lichtenstein’s collage Two Paintings: Sleeping Muse (1984), which hangs behind Ruth’s desk in the sunroom. “Ted was away when I learned that it was to be auctioned, so I called him to ask if he minded if I bid for it,” she recalls. “He agreed, and I got it. Later, it was reported in one of the art magazines that ‘Mrs. Ruth Baum had paid the highest price ever for a collage.’ That was the last time I was allowed to buy on my own!”
The Baums’ South Florida home reflects their interest in international artists, particularly Italian artists from Arte Povera—a reactionary contemporary art movement at the end of the 1960s and early 1970s—whose works Ruth and Ted collected before the artists came to the United States.
In the bright hallway between the dining room and the living room hangs Freundinnen (Girlfriends, 1967), a black and white photograph and pencil on photo paper by German artist Sigmar Polke. Polke was a contemporary of fellow German Gerhard Richter, with whom he founded the Kapitalistischer Realismus (Capital Realism) movement. Richter’s work is also represented in the Baums’ collection. Below the Polke hangs a work by Italian conceptual artist Piero Manzoni, Achrome (1958). On the floor nearby sit five of Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara’s doll-like sculptures, The Little Pilgrims (Night Walking, 1999), each figure in colorful outfits and with arms outstretched. Nara’s depictions of such cartoon-like children have become his signature style.
Photography by Jerry Rabinowitz
The first piece to grab your attention upon entering the dining room is After Edvard Munch (1984), Andy Warhol’s version of the Norwegian Expressionist artist’s famous 1893 painting The Scream. There is also an early painting by British artist David Hockney, Picture of a Hollywood Swimming Pool (1964), as well as a piece by German/American Abstract Expressionist Hans Hofmann, Hilarious Blender (1964). Hofmann established an art school in Germany, which he later reopened in New York and in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Many of his students went on to become successful artists. Pop artist James Rosenquist’s Fruit Salad (1964) hangs below a small painting by Wayne Thiebaud, Dressing Wells (1961). Nearby a Willem de Kooning, Untitled (1968), stands a life-size form of a woman wearing a wig, Mannequin (1956), an early work by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. In the center of the room, hanging over the table, is an elegant early twentieth century Venetian glass chandelier in the shape of a large conch shell.
Filling the wall at the far end of the living room is a large painting by one of Hofmann’s former students, Joan Mitchell—Green Book of Barbara Guest (1960). Works by Franz Kline, Sol LeWitt, Lynda Benglis, and Liza Lou, among others, also take their place in this large room. Highlights include an iconic sculpture by George Segal, Man Leaning on Car Door (1963), and Gerhard Richter’s black and white painting Mountains (1968). A sculpture of a crouching figure, Untitled (1987-88), by British artist Antony Gormley, is placed on a floor sculpture by American minimalist Carl Andre, Steel Magnesium Plain (1967). In 1976, the Tate installation of Andre’s arrangement of 120 fire bricks, Equivalent VIII (1966), caused an uproar that is still today one of the most famous discussions in Britain about contemporary art.
Leaning against a wall is Michelangelo Pistoletto’s intriguing painting Untitled (1962). The Italian artist uses a mirror as an interactive dialogue between the viewer and the image painted on the reflective surface. In the piece, a young woman is walking along reading a book and munching on a snack. Opposite are works by American artists: Ed Ruscha’s Squeezing Dimple (1964) and two works by artists from the Pop Art movement, Tom Wesselmann’s Still Life No. 22 (1962) and Mel Ramos’s Saucey No. 2 (2010). Ramos, most known for his realist female nudes, was a pupil of Wayne Thiebaud. Above a cabinet hangs Sacco (1954), by Italian artist Alberto Burri, a leading figure in post-war art.
The master bedroom is filled with works by Italian artists, including Mario Merz, Manolo Millares, Giuseppe Penone, and Piero Manzoni. The Italians share the space with a Dutchman, Marcel Broodthaers, whose Panneau de Moules (“Panel of Mussels,” 1966) is a collection of mussel shells protruding from the center of a black canvas. Romanian art deco master Demétre Chiparus is represented by a beautiful statuette, Starfish (1920), one of Ted’s earliest purchases. “He brought it back on his lap on the plane from London,” says Ruth. “It was $300, and I remember saying, ‘What have you done? We have no money!’”
Although the Baums have deaccessioned large parts of their collection, Ruth is surprised at how many works remain filling the walls in their homes. The pieces they have held on to are much loved, weaving a story of a particular time in post-war contemporary art and reflecting the couple’s style and taste. Ruth appreciates other genres, including recent contemporary art by talents like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Nina Chanel Abney, but worries it wouldn’t mesh well with the rest of the collection. “I really love them, but they would take over the space and are so different, they would disrupt the balance,” she says. “If I were to start all over again, I would go in for that kind of stuff and find the right space, but it’s just not in the cards now.”
A former member of the Guggenheim Museum International Director’s Council, Ruth now devotes herself to local cultural institutions. She has served as a board member with the Norton Museum of Art since 2007 and as co-chair and founding member of the Norton’s Contemporary and Modern Art Council (CMAC). She has also worked with ArtSpeaks, the Norton’s Works of Art committee, and the Bijoux! committee. Ruth and Ted were five-year sponsors of the Norton’s first Curator of Contemporary Art and, more recently, gave great support to the renovations at the Norton. The Norton’s Modern European Collection gallery is aptly named for them, and Ruth loaned two pieces to exhibitions celebrating the opening last spring. She also serves on the executive boards of the Palm Beach Zoo and the Armory Art Center, where she takes painting classes.
Their passion for art has given the Baums a lifetime of pleasure, which is something Ruth hopes to pass along to their nine grandchildren. “Find your passions,” she tells them, “because they will serve to fulfill a special place in your lives.”