Inside San Diego’s Top Private Art Collections
The Iris and Matthew Strauss Contemporary Art Collection
I’m pressed for wall space!” says Matthew Strauss, walking around a Contemporary and Avant-Garde art collection that encompasses 20,000 square feet and two houses on seven acres in Rancho Santa Fe. The main house includes a 4,000-square-foot gallery. Known as “Rancho del Arte,” the Iris and Matthew Strauss estate is a testament to the couples’ passion and commitment to the arts.
The Strausses began collecting art in the mid-‘80s when they moved into their present home. Recalls Matthew, “We had all these blank walls to fill and thought, Let’s start collecting!” He contacted Mary Jane Jacobs at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. “She had just been named chief curator at MOCA, so I looked her up and called her. Can you imagine that?” he laughs. Jacobs advised them on ways to tap into the Contemporary art scene. “Mary Jane said, ‘Visit museums, visit private collections. ... Here are some of my cards. Tell them I sent you.’ ”
Since then, Iris and Matthew have amassed one of the largest and critically acclaimed private Contemporary art collections. They are listed in ARTnews’ Top 200 Collectors in the World.
“Our house is a museum,” he says, “...but when you go into a museum you don’t have to like everything—just take time with the pieces that speak to you, otherwise it’ll wear you out!”
"The latest caper is the area above the west fountain,” he says, describing A Quarry of Rabbits by English sculptor Julian Opie. It’s an installation-in-progress of seven aluminum powder coated rabbits, each of which is four and a half feet tall by three and a half feet wide. Presently, plywood rabbit forms occupy the
positions of the series. “Sculpture is a real commitment to the art,” Matthew says. It demands space and often involves superhero logistics to transport and install.
“This is 'Molecule Man,' ” he says, introducing a six foot, eight inch tall by three-foot wide arrangement of forged steel ball bearings by Antony Gormley. Weighing in at 1,600 pounds, Matthew had to use a crane and gantry to place the sculpture in his entry foyer. Molecule Man stays put by way of five drilled holes with steel bolts attached to the floor. A commitment indeed.
We linger over paintings by Sigmar Polke, Julian Schnabel, Andy Warhol, and Frank Stella.
Matthew heralds the Timken Museum locally. “It’s period art and it will tune your eye—help you to weed out the garbage in Contemporary art!” He refers to the expatriate American writer and art collector Gertrude Stein. “Remember what Stein said, that great art, many times, at first, offends. Which could be part of its lasting value. It takes you by surprise!”
The Toni and John Bloomberg Impressionist Collection.
The first glimpse of the private world of La Jollans Toni and John Bloomberg is a Hockney-esque arrangement of planes of color in blue and green, black and white. Their modern home, built around a rectangular pool, large green lawn, and tennis court is testament to the couple’s enthusiasm for outdoor sports. John trains year round to ensure his spot as the U.S. Ski Association’s Champion Skier in the Masters group, a title he’s held in 2001, 2007, and 2011.
Inside their spotless home, creamy marble floors shine underneath soaring ceilings. On well-lit, bright white walls hang Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings of which many museums only dream. Art Deco furniture is mixed eclectically with more modern pieces. When asked about a certain piece of furniture against a far wall, Toni says, “It’s by Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann. Sometimes our guests don’t even notice [the furniture]! They go straight to the windows and look at the view, then they look at the paintings.”
Paintings such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Reclining Nude and Nabi masterpieces including Édouard Vuillard’s The bench, Square Vintimille and Pierre Bonnard’s Interior with Two Figures hang next to the couple’s most recent acquisition, a Pablo Picasso, Woman with Blue Headband.
“We’re collectors of change artists,” says John. Referring to their Claude Monet painting The Seine at Bougival, he continues, “This is a transition picture. Renoir, Monet, and Pissarro were sitting on the banks of the Seine, painting the same scenes, and then something different started happening.” He crosses the living room and gestures more closely to the painting. “Here, Monet is using a palette knife instead of a brush, showing more light and shadow than Corot and other Barbizon School painters at the time ...” John might as well be on the banks of the Seine himself, discovering a new way of seeing.
The Seine at Bougival was on display at the Getty Museum recently, where John sits on the advisory board. Toni Bloomberg is a trustee of the San Diego Museum of Art and sits on the board of directors of the Utah Museum of Art. Access to great curators who can advise them, and keeping an eye on auctions and an ear to the ground for private sales is the way they’ve found many of their paintings. “The only limitation is money,” says John, referring to a bidding war last year over a Gauguin painting at auction in New York. “Leonard Lauder wanted it, too. ... He outbid me!” says John with laughter.
“Art is a hard asset, like gold,” he continues, “Kings and queens collected art and gold. ... [It’s] a great hedge against the devaluing dollar. ... We’re not putting these in a closet—we invite people to see our paintings, loan them to museums. Art is a progression of the way people see things.” // L.D. Lathrop
The Demi and Frank Rogozienski Old Masters and Barbizon Collection
Demi and Frank Rogozienski’s 10,000-square-foot courtyard home, nestled within the Rancho Santa Fe Covenant, was built to bring the outdoors in: picture windows magnify gardens bordering a vast expanse of lawn. An edgeless pool, a putting green, and a cherub fountain co-exist under the watchful eye of Diana the Huntress, a classical sculpture that seems to survey all amidst the verdure.
But the home’s interior is most striking. Thirty-foot high walls are covered from top to bottom with Barbizon landscapes and Old Masters paintings—masterpieces of a power and magnitude that draw visitors in.
Demi points to a barely-discernible pattern in the sky of a 17th-century painting attributed to Giuseppe Nuvolone, called Agrippina with the Ashes of Germanicus. “When we cleaned it we could see where there was once some fire and water damage,” she says. “But when you think about everything this painting has been through—world wars, revolutions, a fire—it’s amazing it’s still here,” says her husband, Frank.
At an auction in Paris a few years ago, a Joshua Reynolds painting was on the block. As Demi tells it, “I came down with the flu so Frank had to go to the auction alone and his French is not as good as mine. When he got back to the apartment I said, ‘Did you get it?’ ‘I got it,’ he said. ‘What did it go for?’ ‘I’m not sure,’ Frank answered, ‘but I didn’t hear un million.’ ”
Their Reynolds painting, A Boy and His Dog, hangs below an antique crystal Baccarat chandelier next to a curving staircase created by a San Diego artisan. The forged iron and rosette railing was inspired by the ornate balconies the couple sees along the Boulevard Saint-Germain on their frequent trips to Paris.
Period furniture and objets d’art round out their collection. “I try to display the paintings and furniture as they would have been displayed in the past—I try to capture that,” says Demi.
In Frank’s coffered-ceilinged study, the Barbizon painters Jules Dupré, Théodore Rousseau, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, and Narcisse Diaz line paneled walls in rows upon rows. Pulling aside an open door, Frank reveals a black crayon caricature by social satirist Honoré Daumier. Pointing to the glowing sky in a favorite painting by Léon Germain Pelouse, Frank says, “His forté was the backlight ...” Demi sighs, “You only see skies like that in France.”
Twenty of the Rogozienski’s paintings hang in the ”Life and Truth Exhibit” at the San Diego Museum of Art, a show that celebrates the French landscape painters that dared to depict nature and subjects in a more realistic style that would form the bridge to the next critical shift, Impresssionism.