Ron Pizzuti: Collectors should use their power wisely


Ron Pizzuti

Do art collectors exert a positive influence on the art market, and do they have a responsibility to nurture artists or educate the public by giving them access to their work? Ron Pizzuti, founder of The Pizzuti Collection, shared his view with Private Art Investor.


Ron Pizzuti’s  passion for art began when he spotted a Frank Stella painting in a gallery in Montmartre, Paris. It was the early 1970s and Pizzuti’s job gave him ample opportunity to travel but did not pay enough for him to afford the painting.

“At the time the painting was the equivalent of $10,000 and that was like $10 million to me. I didn’t buy it, but that was the beginning. I came back to New York and went to the public library and looked up Mr Stellar,” he says.

“Prior to that had no real interest in art. I made the obligatory visits to museums and seldom went to a gallery. That’s all changed now: I don’t go to a city anywhere in the world without doing advance research on the visual arts scene and museums and the galleries, some prominent, some not so prominent.”

Needless to say, Pizzuti, who made his fortune as a real estate developer, went on to acquire many of Stella’s work and has got to know him very well. He has made it a priority to meet every living artist that is in his collection. Over the years, this has meant meeting with the likes of Willem de Kooning, Jean Dubuffet and Agnes Martin.

“Meeting them gives me a handle on what thought process they go through in making their work and a better appreciation of what they produce. For example, I watched Chuck Close make a painting in his studio. I visited several times during the process, and bought the painting. It was fascinating to me to watch him every few weeks add another component to what turned out to be a masterpiece.”

Big rewards

Over the years, his art collection achieved such size and a significance that he decided it made sense to put it permanently on show. He opened The Pizzuti Collection in a former insurance company headquarters in Colombus, Ohio in September 2013, and though the process has been financially draining, he has no doubt that the rewards are immense.

“We’re pretty excited about it – our whole family’s involved, we’ve got a very small but very strong staff, and the response has been beyond our expectations. We now share what we’ve been doing for almost 40 years with the public and we are enjoying it.”

The collection includes a strong educational initiative, with no admission charge for school children and students. In addition to the exhibitions, a research library is being developed that will enable students to study artists on site.

“One of the biggest by-products of this exercise has been students’ reaction to the collection. In this country the first thing that gets cut when there is a shortage of funds for education institutions is the art and music programmes.  The Collection has educational programs for young people and one of the biggest rewards for us is seeing their comments and drawings based on their visits.”

Steady growth

Pizzuti’s approach to collecting is rigorous and wide ranging.

“We’ve gone in phases,” he says. “Initially we collected prints from American and European artists because that was all we could afford. Since then we’ve gone global. Some artists are very versatile – Gerhard Richter, for instance, paints, draws and produces photography. We love collecting in depth and when we get interested in an artist we will pursue all the mediums in which they participate.

“As a result the collection started out with prints, then we graduated to drawings and paintings and now it’s multidimensional in that there’s some video some photography some sculpture. It is more focused on the artist rather than the art form.”

The collection reflects Pizzutti’s time spent in Europe, Asia, India and Cuba, but most recently he has turned his attention closer to home, championing Ohio artists in his new Ohio boutique hotel. He is now planning to open up two further  hotels in two other US states and is currently researching the local art scenes so that he can champion local artists in those hotels too.

The initiative reflects Pizzuti’s sense that collectors have a measure of power and responsibility within the art world.

“I didn’t always feel that way – this is a recent exercise for us and I feel very good about it. Frankly the quality of the work that’s gone into these hotels is comparable to some of the very well-known pieces that will be in the lobbies and some of the public areas.

“I’m really happy about it and a couple of the artists are getting some recognition, so it’s good publicity for them.”

Shaping the market

Does he believe, then, that collectors have the power to shape the art market?

“That’s a tough question because it’s become a business and art collectors have a lot of power in shaping the market and establishing values. I sat next to a major collector at an auction who bid several million dollars for a painting that frankly wasn’t worth what he was paying for it. The person on the other side of me said, ‘Think about it: he is the largest collector of this artist in the world. Look what he has done to the value of his collection – he has upped the ante.’ So I think collectors can have a major impact – not always positive.”

More and more players are entering the art market keen to make a speedy profit – in many cases because they believe art will offer better returns than stocks. Pizzuti takes a circumspect view of this aggressive environment, and of the way in which sharply rising prices can affect the fortunes of individual artists.

“There were times in the late 80s and early 90s the market imploded. A lot of folks had been frankly paying more for works than they were worth. The market then corrected and many of them had to sell their works – and it ended up in some cases hurting the artist because prices had escalated and then dropped pretty quickly. It’s worth remembering that the art market is no different from the stock market, or the real estate market for that matter.”

Pizzuti believes that today’s art market is due for a correction – but there is no doubt that he is in it for the long haul, with The Pizzuti Collection an enduring sign of his commitment.

“My advice to any collector looking to do something similar is: be prepared to foot the bill yourself. The Pizzuti Collection has been an expensive proposition. We have invested more money in it than we originally anticipated. Do I regret it? No, absolutely not. We’re programming the next three years already, with exhibitions ranging from fun and interesting to more intellectual.

“An exercise like this is not for the meek. It’s important to hire the best help you can find. Of course, just being able to share what we’ve done over the last 40 years has been a real joy. My wife has not seen much of what we had warehoused so it was a real revelation to her, too.”