California university receives trove of art from collector

IRVINE, Calif. — Modern art rarely seen by the public will be displayed at the University of California, Irvine, after a collector donated more than 3,000 paintings and sculptures to the school.

The works will be exhibited along with other art in a new museum to be built on the campus about 40 miles south of Los Angeles, UC Irvine officials said Tuesday.

Gerald Buck, a Newport Beach property developer who died in 2013, bequeathed more than 3,200 original works to the university. Officials said Buck kept the collection — said to be worth tens of millions of dollars — in his home, a warehouse and a private gallery. He only occasionally lent pieces out to museums.

In the trove are paintings by prominent California artists of the 20th Century, including Richard Diebenkorn, Sam Francis and Joan Brown.

“For nearly three decades, these beautiful and important pieces have been kept mostly under wraps,” said Chancellor Howard Gillman. “We can’t wait to exhibit these gems to the public.”

The Buck Collection includes works of classic California Impressionism, a huge Los Angeles night cityscape, and iconic “freeway series” paintings, among many others, according to a university press release.

Malcolm Warner, executive director of the Laguna Art Museum, called it “undeniably the greatest collection of California art ever assembled in private hands.”

School leaders hope the museum will make Irvine a destination for art lovers.

Buck, who built sprawling suburban communities, was actively involved with Southern California museums as well as the Smithsonian Institution. During the last year of his life, Buck prepared a first-ever exhibition of the treasured collection, along with a book and a film.

Buck’s daughter, Christina, said her father wanted the paintings, sculptures and his large library given to an institution with extensive research programs in the arts.

“My dad always said that art was meant to be seen and enjoyed by people. He’d say, ‘That’s why they make museums — so people can see art and enjoy it,” she said.