Ruth Horwich died on Monday, July 21, at ninety-four years old. She and her late husband Leonard were renowned art collectors and supporters of numerous Chicago art institutions. Since the 1950s, they collected work by Chicago Imagists, European Surrealists, and the works of many unknown, young, self-taught and folk artists. Their collection also includes many notable examples of work by the artists Alexander Calder, Roberto Matta and Jean Dubuffet. In fact, Dubuffet’s “Monument with the Standing Beast,” a large public sculpture that stands outside the Thompson Center was a partial gift of their Leonard J. Horwich Foundation. Ruth Horwich was one of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s founders in 1967, and has been a trustee of the museum since 1984. Their collection of Calder mobiles and stabiles are part of the Leonard and Ruth Horwich Family Loan to the MCA, and happen to be on view currently in “MCA DNA: Alexander Calder” through May 2015. MCA curator Lynne Warren wrote to Newcity with a thoughtful tribute, saying, “She was so generous to MCA; she donated pieces by Roger Brown, Barbara Rossi, Kerig Pope, Frank Piatek, Konstantin Milonadis, Anne Wilson, H.C. Westermann and others, and would be the first to step up to match grants (back in the days when governmental agencies gave purchase grants!) to acquire Chicago-based artists that she didn’t necessarily collect, including Jim Lutes, Frances Whitehead and Laurie Palmer.” (Read Warren’s full tribute below.) In total, the Horwich’s have added twenty-nine pieces to the MCA’s collection, among them Calder’s 1949 “Four Boomerangs,” Marisol’s 1962 “Jazz Wall” and the 1963 H.C. Westermann “Rosebud.”
She has previously served on the twentieth-century painting and sculpture acquisitions committee at the Art Institute of Chicago, to which several artworks from her collection have been donated. She was chair of the Hyde Park Art Center for forty years, where her imaginative leadership brought attention to the first Hairy Who exhibitions, which were hosted at the Center. Horwich frequently opened her home for parties that celebrated community between the Imagist artists and collectors and Hyde Park residents. Former director of HPAC Chuck Thurow writes about Horwich in an email, “She and the famous post-exhibition-opening parties at her house were central to the Chicago art scene of the 60s and 70s. Up to the end, she wanted to know who the interesting new, young were. And she kept buying their work for her collection and encouraging them. I cannot think of another person who had such a long and consistent tenure in supporting Chicago artists.”
Additionally, Horwich has served as a board member of Poetry magazine, and supported numerous institutions at the University of Chicago including the Renaissance Society, Court Theatre and the Smart Museum of Art. (Matt Morris)
Full text of Lynne Warren’s tribute:
“Ruth Horwich and my experience of art in Chicago are inextricably linked. I met her at MCA in the 1980s, and was delighted when she was appointed to the Exhibition Committee during an era where exhibition proposals were hotly debated; she would always make her opinions known, and they were consistently ‘professional staff knows best’ and ‘we need to show exciting new talent.’
As the years passed and I had many opportunities to visit her I always marveled at the Calders that hung low in the living room, and extraordinary Picabia ‘Painting of Madame X’ and her stellar Magritte ‘The White Race’ (now on view in the Magritte show at the Art Institute, where she promised it before her death). And Marisol, Matta, Masson, Miro, Lam and many others all in that Hyde Park house which was very much a home (how often did I marvel over her dressing table with its extraordinary assemblage of Calder and Lassaw jewelry, Bakelite bangles, folk items, etc., etc., etc.). Not to mention all of the Hyde Park Art Center’s best and brightest that she had acquired in her support of that institution over the years—Don Baum, Jim Nutt, Gladys Nilsson, Karl Wirsum, Ed Flood, Jin Soo Kim and so many others, including “outsiders” like Aldo Piacenza and Pauline Simon.
She was so generous to MCA; often works were “ours for the asking” — she donated pieces by Roger Brown, Barbara Rossi, Kerig Pope, Frank Piatek, Konstantin Milonadis, Anne Wilson, H.C. Westermann and others, and would be the first to step up to match grants (back in the days when governmental agencies gave purchase grants!) to acquire Chicago-based artists that she didn’t necessarily collect, including Jim Lutes, Francis Whitehead, and Laurie Palmer.
And it is due to Ruth and her late husband Leonard that MCA and Calder are inextricably linked. I first worked with Horwich Calders in 1992 when we showed the group as The Leonard and Ruth Horwich Family Loan and published a beautiful catalogue. And it was certainly a career highlight for me to work with them again as the core inspiration of the “Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy” which traveled nationally in 2010. The Calders have touched so many people over the years, and it is through Ruth and her vision that this was possible.”