With More Than 100 Works From Their Private Collection Set to Go to the New Norton Museum, Howard and Judie Ganek Offer a Sneak Peek at What’s in Store
Photography by Jerry Rabinowitz
Howard and Judie Ganek shot into the limelight in Palm Beach County last spring with the announcement that they would donate 125 works of art from their private collection to the Norton Museum of Art. Described by the Norton as “transformative,” the unexpected gift will enhance the Norton’s permanent contemporary art collection with works by artists not yet represented in its holdings. The Ganeks understood that the Foster + Partners redesign of the Norton was going to give the museum a significant upgrade and were excited to have their works grace the galleries in this new setting. Among the treasures promised to the museum are some of the Ganeks’ greatest paintings, sculptures, photo-based works, and ceramic pieces.
The roots of the Ganeks’ personal collection go back decades, when Howard won a scholarship to study art at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston at the age of 17. However, he says his interest in contemporary art was not a great match for the MFA at that time, so he decided to study economics at Emory University in Atlanta instead. This led to a successful career in finance and an eventual partnership at the asset management company Neuberger Berman. Cofounder Roy Neuberger surrounded his offices with art, and a large Edward Hopper, The Barber Shop (1931), confronted Howard when he first entered the building. He was inspired.
Howard and Judie married in 1961 and settled in New York City. They shared a love of art but didn’t yet have the funds to acquire anything of note. Judie attended art classes to gain more knowledge about the subject, and they spent Saturday afternoons wandering through Soho and talking to gallery owners. When they were ready to get their feet wet as nascent collectors, they reached out for help. Howard’s friend (and fellow partner at Neuberger Berman) Arthur Goldberg would accompany the Ganeks on their gallery visits. And Mike Danoff, director of the art program at Neuberger Berman, also shared his expertise. The more the Ganeks saw, the more they developed an eye for what was to become important work. Although Judie says Howard was more knowledgeable, Howard credits Judie with a more astute and daring eye. They took to heart something Goldberg had told them: “Whatever you don’t like at first, go back and take another look.”
The couple’s very first acquisition was Kitchener (1979) by British artists Gilbert & George. At the time, the Ganeks lived in an older apartment in Manhattan with beautiful molding around the walls, thus collecting art meant difficult decisions had to be made to accommodate the large canvases. In other words, the molding would have to go. Judie closed her eyes and, without hesitation, told the contractor, “Go ahead, remove it.” Explains Judie: “You can’t collect contemporary art unless you have big wall space.” So that was that.
As Howard has mentioned, he wasn’t always as confident in certain decisions—which became evident at photographer Cindy Sherman’s first gallery show at the Metro Picture Gallery in 1980. Some of her still film was going for $100 a box. Howard wasn’t convinced this was of any value. Judie, on the other hand, had more than a hunch that this was a big deal—but was unable to convince Howard. “It turns out, that $100 purchase would have been worth millions today,” says Howard. “This is my greatest regret.”
A happier story tells of their visit to London- based gallerist Anthony d’Offay’s booth at Art Basel in Switzerland, where Howard fell for Ed Ruscha’s Swollen Tune (1997). He was prepared to buy it on the spot, but the gallery owner told the Ganeks it was going to a museum in Germany. Howard continues the story: “Six months later, we were in London and visited the d’Offay gallery. Lo and behold, the painting was still there. I asked what happened and was told that the German museum was unable to raise the money. So I bought it right then and there.” The piece is still Howard’s favorite.
The graphic Cibachrome print Heaven and Hell (1984) by photographer Andres Serrano was one of Judie’s more daring choices. Religious attitudes toward women is a theme that runs through Serrano’s work, and this particular piece depicts a bound nude woman next to a cardinal of the Catholic Church. The painting hung above their bed, and when the apartment went on the market, the real estate agent asked if they would mind taking it down so as not to deter potential buyers.
Today the Ganeks’ collection is divided between apartments in West Palm Beach and New York City. Stepping out of the elevator into the foyer of their Florida apartment, a sculpture of a man stands in front of a mirror on the wall. If you look closer at the work by Juan Muñoz, Towards the Mirror (1998), you notice his eyes are closed. The message: Most people go through life looking but not really seeing.
The tantalizing image of Cindy Sherman’s Untitled #305 (1994), seen through the grill gate to the entrance hall, is a close-up of two seemingly human faces about to kiss. On closer inspection, they are strange doll-like faces. Opposite is one of Damien Hirst’s untitled signature butterfly mandalas (2007). Once again, Judie took action to fit a piece into the space, this time by removing the original frame. Crouched on the floor is Antony Gormley’s Hold II (1989), a cast-iron figure with his arms clasping his head between his knees.
Embedded into the entrance archway to the living room is Anish Kapoor’s Untitled (1997). The small, polished stainless steel concave sphere reflects and distorts the viewer’s image. Inside the bright and elegant living room is a trio of large pieces of various media hanging harmoniously on walls flanking the entrances to the library and the dining room: Matthew Barney’s photograph Cremaster 3: Bretheren (2002); Igloo (1983), an acrylic, resin, and wallpaper collage on canvas by Sigmar Polke; and Anselm Kiefer’s Lilith (1987-1989), ash, printed paper, and a gelatin silver print collage on lead.
In the paneled library, a piece from Frank Stella’s colorful Shards (1982), hangs above the sofa. The room’s many shelves and niches display a selection of notable pieces of ceramics and mixed media items by Barbara Kruger, Joseph Beuys, and Kenneth Price, among others.
Howard’s beloved Ruscha hangs front and center in the light-drenched dining room. The title, Swollen Tune, is depicted in tall, bold white letters laid over a lapis blue snowy mountain landscape. Dancing across the wall facing the windows are Kara Walker’s delightful cut-paper silhouettes, A Work on Progress (1998), one female character sweeping the other off her feet with a broom. Mounted in the upper corner of the wall is Richard Artschwager’s wood and mirror Splatter Chair 2 (1992). A large ceramic piece by Betty Woodman , San Giorgio Vase, Stand, Leaf (1991) sits on a narrow console table below.
Mounted on the wall in a narrow corridor leading to the bedrooms is a horizontal row of bright metal bricks, Untitled (1985) by Donald Judd. In another corridor hangs a large, dramatic black-and-white photographic portrait of a girl with a piercing glare, Malgorzata Tuslewicz, ul. Szlachtowskiego, Krakow, June/July (1979/1992) by Craigie Horsfield.
Dominating the family room is a spectacular snow-covered forest scene by Yannick Demmerle. The large blue-tinted chromogenic untitled print (2003) is flush-mounted on aluminum. On a small table below sits George Edgar Ohr’s expressive glazed ceramic pedestal bowl (circa 1880).
Most of these works are promised to the Norton Museum by the Ganeks, who have long been patrons and supporters of the arts. Howard and Judie have both been involved with art museums in New York City, including the establishment of the New Museum. Howard was eager to support the enterprise (founded by Marcia Tucker in 1977) with his friend and business partner Arthur Goldberg, who became one of the museum’s early presidents. Judie served on the Acquisition Committees of the Whitney Museum of American Art and on the International Director’s Council of The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Howard was on the board of Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum, which is dedicated to art and artifacts of antiquity. He is most proud of his early association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., where he was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve a five-year term as a member of the Holocaust Memorial Council in 2005.
Whether in New York or Palm Beach, Howard and Judie say they feel lucky to live surrounded by their art. “When I wake up every day and look around at all our pieces of art, I get as much enjoyment as I did when I saw them for the first time,” Howard says. Unlike Muñoz’s foolish man in front of the mirror, the Ganeks have spent their lives with their eyes wide open.