Gift of museum will extend Ron Pizzuti's longtime project of spreading his love for contemporary art.

At a party tonight celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Pizzuti Collection, founder Ron Pizzuti and the collection's nonprofit board of directors announced that the private museum, along with a selection of art owned by the Pizzuti family, will be donated to the Columbus Museum of Art.

Ownership of the bulk of the Pizzuti family's collection of primarily contemporary art, reported to include nearly 2,400 works, will remain with Ron and Ann Pizzuti. But the CMA will have access to the artworks, for exhibition in both the 18,000-square-foot building at 632 N. Park St. in the Short North that the Pizzuti Collection now owns and the museum's Broad St. location, "for the foreseeable future."

"Ann and I are pleased to donate to the CMA a selection of artworks," wrote Ron Pizzuti in an email sent to Pizzuti Collection members shortly after the announcement and signed by both him and his wife, Ann, "that capture the essence of the global contemporary artists whose works were exhibited during the Pizzuti Collection’s first five years." The gift, he wrote, has "created a transformational moment that secures the Pizzuti Collection’s legacy as an artist-centric contemporary program, transforms the CMA’s collection by repositioning it as a multi-faceted contemporary program, and elevates Columbus’ arts scene."

CMA executive director Nanette Maciejunes, along with the CMA board of trustees, will assume leadership of the Pizzuti Collection, which will become The Pizzuti Collection of the Columbus Museum of Art.

It's a bold gesture for Ron and Ann Pizzuti, but it is of a piece with their longtime project of sharing their love of contemporary art with an ever-broader community.  

Ron Pizzuti’s infectious enthusiasm for 20th and 21st-century art has been rippling outward for more than four decades. Ann was the first one affected. After Ron fell love with a small painting by Frank Stella that he’d stumbled upon during a business trip to Paris, but couldn’t afford (it was priced at $10,000 and his annual salary at the time was $12,000), Ron convinced Ann that the couple should nevertheless buy something. They chose a print by Dutch painter Karel Appel, convincing Columbus gallery owner Eva Glimcher to allow them to pay for the $900 print in installments.

From that first purchase, an obsession was born. In a recent interview, the couple described it as a joint project led by Ron. “He actually taught me,” says Ann. “I did not grow up with art, but as he was learning, he educated me.”

As Ron, who was raised in modest circumstances in Kent, Ohio and started his career in retail but founded a real-estate development company in 1976, became financially successful, the Pizzutis' collection grew. Ron chose the art, with Ann gamely assenting to each purchase. Interviewed together, they engage in lighthearted banter about the process. “I don’t think he ever met a piece he didn’t like,” jokes Ann, pointing out that Ron is often wildly optimistic about whether a new purchase will fit in the space he has in mind for it.

Back when their children were young, Ron and Ann would take them to Glimcher’s Pace Gallery before OSU football games. And when the family traveled, art was always on the agenda. “Every place we went,” says Ann, “we’d go to major museums or shows so they got exposed to art at an early age.”

The Pizzutis knew this education was paying off when Ron purchased a painting by the French artist Jean DuBuffet. “He came home, he was so excited, he was uncrating it,” recounts Ann, “and our 8-year-old daughter walks around the corner, and says, ‘Dad, that looks like a DuBuffet!’ That’s from the exposure of going and looking at so much art.”

Five years ago, the Pizzutis, now world-renowned collectors, decided it was time to extend their circle of influence beyond the family. Although their 12,000-square-foot penthouse apartment in Miranova (developed by the Pizzuti Cos. and described in Columbus Monthly in 2017) was built for art, and although more of their collection is displayed in apartments they own in New York City and Sarasota, as well as in the homes of their adult children and at commercial properties they own, such as Le Meridien, The Joseph, the majority of their collection (reported to number 2,400 works) is stored in an unmarked warehouse.

So they opened a museum where they could bring out those warehoused paintings, sculptures and other works and let the public have a look. This week, the Pizzuti Collection celebrates its fifth anniversary. In that time, the museum, an 18,000-foot former insurance building across from Goodale Park, has attracted 40,000 visitors to see 617 works by 200 artists from 40 countries. Shows at the museum are curated almost exclusively from the Pizzuti family collection, with the art rotating often. The only constants in the museum are the Appel—their first purchase—displayed on the lower level in the library, and a wall called “P.C. Kids,” where framed pictures drawn and painted by the Pizzuti grandchildren are displayed.

“It’s been fun,” says Ron. “The time has gone by so quickly.”

He has an expansive office in the museum and takes special pleasure, he says, in seeing school groups tour the galleries. “We have a blast when the kids are here. If I hear them out there I’ll open the door.”

Pizzuti wants the community to enjoy his art. “All over the world, museums are intimidating. Galleries are intimidating. You go into any good gallery in New York and there’s usually some snot-nosed kid with their head buried, making $8 an hour, doesn’t even look up.”

At the Pizzuti Collection, on the other hand, “we work really hard to be inviting and to make people feel welcome.” To that end, the collection plays host to a wide range of artistic happenings, as it did last month when the local band Saintseneca performed in the Alec Soth exhibition and writer Hanif Abdurraqib read an essay in the Go Figure exhibition.

Pizzuti says his favorite painter is the 17th-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, but these days even 20th-century art is too old for him to consider; he’s focused exclusively on buying 21st century works. He likes to visit studios to get to know the artists and see the art being made. In the past few years, he has focused his sights even more tightly, on African and African-American art. “There’s just so much good work coming out of Africa, and so much good work in the African-American community in America that’s just getting discovered,” he says.

The nonprofit Pizzuti Collection’s mission reflects his interests; the institution aims to “foster cultural understanding and educational exchange by championing a diversity of voices from around the globe,” according to its website.

A few years ago, Pizzuti took on another project aimed at spreading his artistic enthusiasm: promoting public art. “We’re the largest city in America without a strong public art program, without a commitment from public officials and from the community in general to fund public art,” he says. “Even Dublin [Ohio] has a public art program. We’re light-years behind, and it is frustrating.”

In New York City, Pizzuti chairs the art committee of the Madison Square Park Conservancy. He was honored in April for his leadership there.

Here in Columbus, his efforts have been less successful. In 2014, Pizzuti commissioned the design of a massive modernist sculpture for installation on the Scioto Mile. Battles ensued. The design was modified. Resistance continued. The project was shelved. (The saga was detailed in this 2014 feature in Columbus Monthly.)

Pizzuti hasn’t given up on the project.  (“The timing was wrong,” he says.) But the focus of his current proselytization is on inspiring a new generation of collectors. His children collect art, and he encourages museum members to join him on group trips to view art in places like Cuba and Washington, D.C.—and then to consider making purchases of their own.

“We’re starting to be successful in convincing or inspiring other folks to start doing the same thing as we are,” he says. But he cautions that buying art should be a passion project, not an investment. “One guy in particular has spent a small fortune on art,” he says. “He asks me, ‘How long should I keep this?’ And I say, ‘You’re asking the wrong guy.’”

Pizzuti is excited to share the works that are part of the two fall exhibitions opening this weekend as part of the Pizzuti Collection’s fifth anniversary celebration. When Attitudes Become Chairs is an exhibition made up entirely of chairs, including some by Joris Laarman that were created with 3D printers. Take Up Space will include abstract works that occupy the galleries in unique ways, including a painted linoleum floor by Sarah Cain (“Dark Matter”) that fills an entire room. Guests will be allowed to walk on the work, although stiletto heels must be removed first.

“I think this floor is going to knock ’em dead,” says Ron.

The CMA will take possession of the Pizzuti Collection building Jan 1., but the exhibitions planned for the Pizzuti Collection through June 30, 2021 will go on as scheduled. Members will receive half-price admission to the Columbus Museum of Art beginning January 1. 

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