Arts feature: The Pizzuti Collection five years in

Jim Fischer
Columbus Alive
Photo of “Code Switch” by Odili Donald Odita courtesy of Pizzuti Collection

Ron Pizzuti doesn't mind engaging in a little advocacy.

He recognizes that his adopted hometown — a Kent, Ohio, native, Pizzuti has called Columbus home since the late 1960s — is still a hidden gem among U.S. cities, one that he knows people often fall in love with … once they actually come here.

Pizzuti's art collection and the space he and his wife, Ann, opened five years ago to share that collection with the public, the Pizzuti Collection, located on Park Street in the Short North, are perhaps not so much hidden as less familiar, but the principle is the same. Pizzuti believes the value of both the art and the space where portions of it are displayed will become evident to those who experience it.

“When they come, they're blown away. Maybe that sounds self-serving, but people are often surprised and pleased at what they see here,” Pizzuti said in an August interview in his office at the Collection.

Pizzuti's relationship to art and collecting has humble beginnings. The arts were a part of his education, but Pizzuti himself “never had any talent.” “I still don't,” he said. A visit to Paris brought him face-to-face with a piece by Frank Stella, with whom Pizzuti wasn't familiar but whom he was moved to research (and of whom Pizzuti would become a significant fan and patron).Aprint of a work by Karel Appel, purchased from the Columbus location of the Pace Gallery, would be the first in a growing hobby and, later, passion, for the Pizzutis.

“Our goal has never been to accumulate pieces. We buy, typically, one piece at a time, and are pretty methodical about it. We're passionate about what we do and we've never bought anything thinking down the road how much more will it be worth than what we paid for it. We have never collected for profit,” Pizzuti said. “Have we made money? Absolutely. But we've always relied on our eye, on our taste. And I love getting to know the artists.”

Collecting the work of contemporary artists has been a linchpin of the Pizzutis from the beginning. While the Collection boasts most major names in the contemporary art world, those names haven't always been major when Pizzuti first encountered them.

“Stella was already a major artist when we first started collecting his work. But, for example, Jim Hodges, when the history of the late 20th and 21st century is written about top artists, he'll be included. We started looking at him when he was doodling on paper napkins. Today he's a fantastic artist, very well respected in every major contemporary museum in the world. And he's become a friend. To watch him grow has been exciting. He's gotten to the point where we can't afford to buy his work. To get to watch that process is really cool,” Pizzuti said.

The Pizzuti Collection will begin its fifth year with the opening of three exhibitions on Saturday, Sept. 8. Recent abstract paintings complement a large-scale installation by Sarah Cain in “Take Up Space,” curated by the Collection's Chief Curator, Greer Pagano. “When Attitudes Become Chairs,” guest curated by Marc Benda and Glenn Adamson, speaks to Pizzuti's interest in design via a collection of prototype, high-concept chairs. Lastly, the Collection will participate in “For Freedoms,” a nationwide initiative featuring exhibits designed to foster a dialogue on art and civic and social engagement.

Pagano said the exhibitions, while indicative of the kind of presentations the Collection has made in its five years, are not intended as an attempt to sum up the space's history thus far.

“This is something that's forward-looking,” she said, noting that a fall 2017/spring 2018 exhibition of Stella works served as “sort of that pause.”

“Take Up Space” will also feature work that will be shown outside of a New York City gallery for the first time.

“I can't tell you what an exciting thing it is to be able to present works that people are reacting to for the first time, to introduce people to something that's so brand new,” Pagano said.

The Collection shares a block with Hammond Harkins Galleries and Brandt-Roberts Galleries, neighbors among which Pizzuti feels privileged to be situated. He said the family was offered a space in Orlando several years ago, but that they always intended to have the Collection be in Columbus, and concentrated in the Short North.

In its five years, the Pizzuti Collection has presented 16 exhibitions featuring artists from 40 different countries. Pizzuti figures no more than 10 percent of the Collection has been on display at any one time, a collection that continues to grow as the Pizzutis become more engaged with emerging artist communities in places like India, Cuba and Africa, as well as with African-American artists.

“When we started to put together a program, we quickly figured out we could put together meaningful exhibitions for between 10 [and] 12 years without repeating. [Pagano] currently has a program that goes out another 2 [to] 2-and-a-half years, and I think the city's going to be blown away,” Pizzuti said. “At some point, I suppose, this entity will be completely managed by others. I don't know what that will look like, but I know we've got a lot of juice left.”

Noon-5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8

632 N. Park St., Short North

Pizzuti Collection