The Goergens have spent three decades amassing their collection. Now they are sharing some of it with the world.
The walls in Pam and Bob Goergen’s first home were bare when they married in 1968. “We both came into the marriage with one picture,” says Pam. “Bob found his from an exhibit on the railings of London’s Green Park, and I had one that a friend’s mother had done.” Now, 50 years later, the couple’s North Palm Beach home is filled with beloved works of art that represent more than 30 years of serious collecting.
In the early days of their marriage, art wasn’t so important to the Goergens. Time was spent attending their children’s Little League games and tennis matches and living for a spell in Germany for Bob’s work. It was his career in advertising that first brought Bob into contact with art directors and sparked an interest in the scene. The couple began spending weekends strolling through New York galleries and chatting with gallerists to educate themselves. They read books and catalogues and, by the late 1980s, started to take earnest steps as collectors by attending auctions.
Bob’s first serious bid was for Bacon and Egg (1961) by Claes Oldenburg. Later at the auction, the renowned art dealer and curator Jeffrey Deitch approached the Goergens, wanting to meet the person who was bidding against him. That meeting was the start of a close friendship. Deitch became the mentor who guided Pam and Bob through their collecting years. Recalls Bob: “One of the first things we did with Jeffrey was go to the barn in north Connecticut where Keith Haring had his sculptures. That’s where we saw Julia (1987), our first piece of serious sculpture, which we have now donated to the Norton Museum.”
The Goergens moved into the main auction rooms of Sotheby’s and Christie’s, slowly developing a process where they agreed 90 percent of the time on which works to purchase. Pam explains: “We’d each walk through the previews of the auction houses separately, and at the end we’d say, ‘There are a few things I want you to see,’ and we would find that we had selected a good percentage of the same pieces.”
In time, Deitch helped them bring 40 more sculptures into their collection—works by Henry Moore, Lynn Chadwick, and Barbara Hepworth, to name a few. They ended up acquiring a Tudor-style home in Greenwich, Connecticut, where they could spread their pieces over a large sculpture garden. They also added two gallery rooms inside to accommodate the growing collection.
In 1995, they made Florida their permanent home in an airy contemporary house with bare walls just waiting to be filled—and fill them they did. The main reception rooms lead off a large entrance hall where guests first encounter two of Bob’s favorite pieces: Philip Guston’s Cythera II (1957) and Jail (1969), with Cecily Brown’s Way Beyond Compare (2003) nearby. A recent Larry Poons acquisition, Border Girls (2012), graces one wall. Larry Rivers’ Picasso, Wives, Lovers, and Offspring (1993) hangs above Woman on a Bench II (1980), a sculpture by George Segal.
At the entrance to a narrow corridor that the Goergens refer to as the “Condo corridor,” after the artist George Condo, stands The Little Whore (1977), one of Fernando Botero’s chubby ladies in
a bright red dress. In the Condo corridor are four paintings by the namesake artist, including Infestation (2003) and Darkness (2009). Condo, a close friend of Keith Haring, was influential to many artists of his generation including Lisa Yuskavage, one of Pam’s favorite artists, whose The Bad Laura (1997) hangs in the master bedroom.
On walls leading off the entrance hall are Picasso’s small colored crayon, pastel, and pencil on paper rendition of Rembrandt’s Bathsheba, Bathsheba d’après Rembrandt (1963); Willem de Kooning’s Untitled Woman (1972); and Self Portrait 1 (2011) by Chuck Close. At the end of another narrow corridor is Woman Standing in Blue Doorway (1981), a sculpture by George Segal. The installation at the top of the corridor is Jennifer Bartlett’s brightly painted, orange-toned Waterlilies—Crude Foyer (1989); an orange table with a cone hanging from it, part of the artist’s work, stands underneath.
Photography by Jerry Rabinowitz
The large, inviting living room, with its high ceiling and curved wall of windows, can also be seen from the vantage point of the second-floor gallery that overlooks the entire scene. Hanging from the ceiling is one of Alexander Calder’s ethereal painted metal mobiles, Le Rouge, Le Noir, et Le Blanc (1964). Untitled Stabile (circa 1968-70), a small tabletop Calder, sits below. A striking Roy Lichtenstein diptych, Imperfect Paintings (1987), hangs on one of the tall walls below Robert Rauschenberg’s Lemon Squash (1985). Covering nearly one entire wall is Helen Frankenthaler’s Aubergine (1986), which the Goergens purchased in Palm Beach. Its name reflects the rich aubergine color covering the entire canvas, with splashes and twirls of red and yellow. Next to it is a smaller Frankenthaler, Melba (1976).
The dining room offers more delights—including a masterful hang. A more intimate space with calming, light sage-colored walls gives the ideal background for Joan Mitchell’s stunning abstract floral oil painting Chord VII (1987). Standing next to it in perfect harmony is a sculpture by E.V. Day, Satellite of Modern Love IV (2016). A ball of wool in vibrant indigo sits atop a thin 5-foot-long metal rod, several legs bursting from the main composition.
Although the Goergens generally don’t collect photography, they couldn’t resist one piece in particular: a captivating portrait of two beautiful bare-breasted young women, VB52, Castello di Rivoli (2003), by Vanessa Beecroft. In sharp contrast, Ben Schonzeit’s painting Aalto Light (1988) hangs on the opposite wall, with clearly defined flowers reminiscent of a Dutch master painting. Send in the Clowns (2009) by Lee Quiñones, portraying Madonna in the center of the painting, adds to the charm of the enchanting dining room.
The Goergens’ “comfortable room,” where they spend a lot of their time, has a black and white painting by an unknown artist who took their fancy during a trip to China. At the center, Mao Zedong turns to glance at Marilyn Monroe as youngsters look on in amusement. This unlikely scenario amused the Goergens also.
Climbing the stairs to the upper floor, guests pass one of Donald Judd’s famous stainless steel and amber Plexiglas single-wall sculptures, Untitled (1968). One of Damien Hirst’s rondelle spin paintings, Beautiful Blue Comet Hurtling Toward the Centre (1998), makes a statement in Bob’s study.
In totality, it’s quite the collection—but there are some favorites for the couple. When asked which pieces they couldn’t live without, the Mitchell, Guston, and Picasso came to mind. Any missed opportunities? Bob, who is also drawn to the surrealists, recalls in precise detail a painting by Belgian artist Paul Delvaux that caught his eye but that he did not buy and has regretted ever since.
Space in their home is limited now, and the Goergens have found it necessary to deaccession works. Their children, also enthusiastic collectors, have pieces earmarked for them. And the Norton Museum of Art—where Pam is currently a trustee—is a major beneficiary of their generosity. The museum’s recent renovation under renowned British architect Norman Foster includes his first sculpture garden, part of which is named for the Goergens, who donated 10 pieces from their collection.
The Goergens have long been active supporters of the arts: Both were involved with the Bruce Museum in Greenwich; served on the Collectors Committee of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; and became members of the Contemporary and Modern Art Council at the Norton Museum. Bob was a trustee of the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. and is currently on the board of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. And although it’s always difficult to part with beloved works, the couple says they are at a point in life where they want others to enjoy their art as much as they do.
Says Pam: “We are two caretakers of the art now, and we should be sharing it with others.”