Prominent art collector dies of cancer aged 81 –

Norman and Norah Stone in January 2019.


Norah Stone, a prominent philanthropist and art collector from San Francisco who, along with her husband, Norman, ranked among the ART news List of top 200 collectors each year since 1995, died September 6 at age 81. The cause of death was cancer. Charles Desmarais first reported the news in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Stones, who began collecting art in the early 1990s, were known for their eye-catching and sometimes extravagant complementary outfits. They were inspired to become art collectors through their interactions with John Caldwell, curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art throughout the 1980s until his death in 1993. Both stones would serve on the board of administration of SFMOMA over the years.

For the couple, who married in 1986, collecting was a joint endeavor. “Collecting brings us closer,” Norah said in a 2016 interview with Architectural Summary. “You won’t always agree, but you know you have to make decisions. It really is life.

As part of a survey conducted by ART news with its Top 200 Collectors in 2017, the Stones designated a few prized works as cornerstones of their collection: that of Joseph Beuys Showcase with Central Tray (1962–80); by Jeff Koons Large Vase of Flowers (1991), as well as his balloon dog (1996); a version by Marcel Duchamp LHOOQin which the artist has drawn a mustache on a reproduction of the mona-lisaplus a trio of the Dadaist’s “Erotic Objects” which is linked to the artist’s famous final work, since. Their first purchase as a couple was that of John Baldessari A painting that is its own documentation (1966–68).

“We never intended to collect pretty pictures,” Norah said. SFGate in 2000. “We have never been shy about collecting difficult pieces. I don’t just like to be challenged, I like to challenge others.

Indeed, the Stones’ approach to collecting differed radically from that of their Bay Area peers, particularly Doris and Donald Fisher, the founders of Gap, whose post-war art collection grew. focused in depth on specific artists, many of whom are white, male, and represented by top-notch galleries. (Much of the Fishers’ collection of 1,100 works has been part of a 100-year loan to SFMOMA since it reopened in 2016.) “Don Fisher had a bounded perspective for his collection that was truly his,” Thea Westreich , the Stones’ longtime artistic adviser, said ART news.

In the Stones’ early days, San Francisco was a “very conservative community that only collected what smelled, looked, and felt like art,” Westreich said. “The Stones really wanted to know what was happening in the world now. They loved unusual art that opened up new territory and asked provocative and compelling questions.

The couple’s collection of around 1,000 works spans the gamut of contemporary art. Although conceptual art, from his grandfather Duchamp to later practitioners like Beuys, forms the core of their collections, the Stones have also collected across a variety of styles, mediums and approaches, taking up works by Donald Judd, Vito Acconci, Robert Gober, Mike Kelley, Matthew Barney, Alex Israel, Hito Steyerl, Liz Deschenes, Seth Price, Amalia Ulman, Aaron Flint Jamison and Anna Uddenberg over the years.

When the couple started building their collection, their intention was always to donate it to a museum, preferably the SFMOMA. In the SFGate interview, Norman said: “We realized that these items were not going to be available in the museum unless some people like us bought things that would end up going to public institutions. It’s not for sale. It is not an investment. »

Norah Sharpe was born in 1938 in Alberta, Canada, where she studied nursing before moving to the Bay Area to work in hospitals in the 1960s. She also volunteered to supervise the nursing staff of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic in San Francisco when it opened in 1967. Later in life, Norah earned a law degree from San Francisco Law School and worked as a corporate lawyer.

She met Norman Stone, a psychotherapist who was the son of a Chicago insurance billionaire, on a blind date in 1984, and they married two years later. Early in their relationship, Norah realized that Norman took special care in the way he dressed, often extravagantly. This outgoing outfit would become their signature style, and the couple could be spotted wearing their unusual clothes at art fairs, biennials and beyond. In a 2012 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, she remembers Norman asking her, “Don’t you realize that every day is a costume party?” It was this approach, she says, “that gave me permission to be creative and wear what I wanted to wear, not what other people thought I should wear.”

“The same dedication to buying art went into buying fashion,” said Westreich, who noted that Norah had a passion for the color red. “It was thought out and thought out.”

Together, Norah and Norman Stone would go on to build one of California’s most significant collections of contemporary art, and it would span their home in San Francisco’s upscale Pacific Heights neighborhood and Stonescape, their 17-acre property. in Napa Valley purchased in 1991 that features a working vineyard, farm and large-scale sculptures, including a log cabin by Cady Noland and an installation by James Turrell centered around an infinity pool.

To install Noland’s work at Stonescape, the Stones had to design a paved road that only leads to the cabin, at the request of the artist because Noland likes “the smell of hot asphalt in the summer”, the Stones said in a recent unpublished interview with ART news. (The property has gravel roads otherwise.) To find the perfect spot, Norah walked around the property with Noland. Norah recalled that “every time [we] were driving, Cady said, ‘I get car sickness on twisty roads.’ ”

And like the art collection, the Stones have always created a sense of fanfare about art and about life. “If you looked at how they lived, dressed, ate, even — ordering dinner was a theatrical production — it was all dramatic,” Westreich recalls. “They are as curious as two people I worked with who were always ready to see more, learn more and do more.”

Westreich continued, “Norah had a passion for art, fashion and life in general, a huge the appetite for life and the energy to do so. It’s almost impossible to accept that someone so alive and vibrant is gone. »

Norma D. Ross