ENHANCING THE HOME
The artwork in the Los Angeles home of Lois and Richard Neiter reflects their eclectic aesthetic and their knowledge of art.
Lois and Richard Neiter bought their first piece of art on their honeymoon in Italy. “It was a ‘Europe on $5 a day’ honeymoon,” Richard recalls. “We went to a lot of museums,” Lois says, “but we weren’t thinking of collecting.” They saw a micromosaic by a Florentine tradesman that captured them, however, and they decided to buy it. They couldn’t afford the $150 price and the dealer refused to bargain. After touring elsewhere they returned to the gallery, which agreed to let the couple have the piece for $5 a month.
When their children had graduated from college, they began to collect seriously. Lois, who had been a teacher, became a dealer, displaying art in their home and its 1-acre manicured garden to give people a sense of what it is like to live with art. Richard decorated his Los Angeles chambers as a U.S. bankruptcy judge with examples of fine art.
They moved to a condominium five years ago, which doesn’t permit commercial business and which didn’t have a space for their outdoor art. Lois has become a consultant and a fortuitous encounter solved the problem of many of the outdoor pieces.
Visiting the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, they were given a tour by Scott Shields, the museum’s associate director and chief curator. They mentioned to him that they were moving. “We told him we had a number of pieces we couldn‘t take with us and they deserve to be in a place where the public can see them,” Richard relates. “Scott told us the museum was planning to develop a
sculpture park and the pieces could have a home there. We later donated the outdoor pieces as well as a couple of indoor pieces.”
Their home then and now is open to museum tour groups from around the country. “We’ve traveled with these groups visiting private collections and sometimes having dinner with collectors and their families,” Richard says. “Since my background is in teaching,” Lois explains, “I use the opportunity to educate. We’ve also never turned down a museum exhibition. When a gallery arranges a loan from our collection, we request a ‘place holder’ that will fit our aesthetic while the piece is away. Our portrait of Proust by R.B. Kitaj is out on loan and we temporarily have a Georg Baselitz from LA Louver.”
“Our aesthetic is quite eclectic,” she notes. “At first we were drawn to threedimensional work and in the early ’80s were drawn to the New York school of abstract expressionism. It began to become very expensive and we’ve since sold many of the pieces from that period. We then became interested in the abstract expressionists of the ’50s and ’60s in the Bay Area and began expanding from there. We also found that the beauty we found in abstract expressionism could be found in other forms.” There are a number of works in the collection that reflect the couple’s profound social consciousness. “The work we found attracted us intellectually and emotionally and had a real impact on us.” The story of one of them illustrates their approach to collecting as well as that intellectual and emotional attraction. Lois relates, “We were at a gallery and I saw Alison Saar’s Undertow. Richard was somewhere else in the gallery. I walked up to it and walked around it. The gallery director came over and said, ‘Pretty great piece isn’t it?’ I replied that I was just blown away emotionally and had such a connection to it. I knew Alison is the daughter of
Betye Saar, the great black artist and knew their family history. The woman in the sculpture represents all the black women pulled down by the undertow of life. She is now standing upright and at the end of each strand of hair is a bottle of hair straightener with a note inside. I told the director, ‘Put that on hold!’ and ran and got Richard. When he saw it, he asked, ‘What do you see in it?’ I got eloquent and told him it is the story of black women and their struggles. I said, ‘In many ways it’s the story of women…period.’ Richard said, ‘We’ll buy it, honey.’”
The Neiters follow artists, traveling around the world to art fairs and exhibitions to keep up with their work—even following artists they can’t afford.
“We have three Anthony Caro’s from three different periods of his work,” Lois explains. “We went to his studio in London and saw current and earlier pieces. We later went to his dealer André Emmerich’s farm and saw other work.
“We had been following John Chamberlain, whose work we adored but the size and expense put it out of reach,” she continues. “Then he started doing smaller pieces. Our timing was perfect. We acquired Exhausted Expert and had the opportunity to talk with him about it.”
Their research and deep familiarity with the work of younger artists sometimes brings unexpected results. They had seen the work of Gajin Fujita in a student exhibition at University of Nevada Las Vegas and had talked with critic Dave Hickey about it. “I liked the work immediately,” Lois says. “Richard, not so much. I was at LA Louver in Los Angeles one day and saw a painting in the director’s office wrapped in brown paper with a corner slightly ripped open. I asked, ‘Is that a Fujita?’ He told me Dave Hickey had sent it over and he hadn’t had a chance to open it. I loved it. Gajin blends Edo art with Lichtenstein and other modern art movements as well as graffiti. Richard became convinced and we bought it that day. Gajin lives in East LA where Richard grew up and we’ve developed a close friendship.”
Lois explains that she thought it was important to acquire the artists she represented. “It instilled trust both ways,” she says. “We’ve had amazing relations with the artists I represented—much like a family— and there is the beautiful art we bought as well as the gifts they gave us. It’s such an enhancement in our lives to be involved with the creative mind.”
2On the desk are Gwynn Murrill’s Eagle Trophy #4, 2006, bronze, and Suzye Ogawa’s Kimono, 2010, bronze and mixed media. The painting above them is The Meeting, 1953, oil on canvas, by Emerson Woelffer (1914-2003). In the hall is Matt Wedell’s Gold Poodle, 2010, ceramic with glaze. Above it is Self Portrait, 1942, oil on paper, by Hans Hofmann (1880-1966).3On the left in the living room is Untitled, 1957, oil on canvas, by John Saccaro (1913-1981). On the coffee table are Book of Lies #3, 2004, copper, paper and mixed media, by Eugenia Butler (19472008), and Untitled, 1972, glass and copper, by Claire Falkenstein (1908-1997). Fragment-Lise, 1978-80, painted bronze with fabric, by Robert Graham (1938-2008), is in the left corner. The large print is Frank Stella’s, La Pena di Hu, 1988, etching, wood block, aquatint, screenprint on handmade paper. In the right corner is Manuel Neri’s, Squatting Woman, 1981, painted bronze. Between the armchairs is Matt Eskuche’s Life Styles of the Rich and Famous VI, 2010, silver nitrate glass.4On the left in the dining room is David Bates’ Katrina 2, 2005-06, oil on canvas, and James Havard’s Woman, 1990, oil on canvas.
8 8In the entry is Jonathan Lasker’s Hidden Identity, 2009, oil on linen, and David Bates’ Magnolias, 2006, oil on canvas.
9In the den are Adler, 1979, gouache on paper, by Georg Baselitz, which is on loan from LA Louver, and Exhausted Expert, 2003, steel with paint, by John Chamberlain (1927-2011).10In the den are Loukas, 1989, burlap, resin figure on iron seat, by Magdalena Abakanowicz (1930-2017); James Havard’s African Puppeter, 1997, oil and wax on panel; and Yayoi Kusama’s Five Pumpkins, 2002, porcelain.11Lois and Richard Neiter sit in front of Homage to Miro, 1960, oil on canvas, by Emerson Woelffer (1914-2003).9