Cedars-Sinai's Vast Art Collection Owes its Legacy to a Patient's Recovery a Half-Century Ago
It was 1966 and Frederick R. Weisman, a Los Angeles business leader and art lover, had slipped into a coma after suffering a head injury. Though he returned to consciousness after several days in the hospital, he remained dazed and disoriented. His wife, Marcia Simon Weisman, who was also an influential art collector, grew alarmed as her husband struggled to remember her name.
In an effort to stimulate his memory, Mrs. Weisman decided to enlist the couple’s prized private art collection. "As the story goes, Marcia would bring pieces to the hospital and leave them by her husband's bedside so that he would see them when he opened his eyes," says John T. Lange, curator of the Cedars-Sinai art collection.
One morning, Frederick Weisman was looking at an abstract painting his wife had brought in, admiring its jagged lines and trademark dripped colors, when he had a breakthrough: He recognized the artist as Jackson Pollock, and to his wife’s delight, named him aloud.
"He could make that connection to the work of art before he could make the connection to identify his wife," Lange said of Weisman's first step toward healing. "There was an obvious relationship between the art and his recovery."
In 1976, when the expansion of the medical center was completed, the Weismans returned to tour the new facility. Avid collectors of modern art since their first 1950s purchase (Jean Arp's polished bronze sculpture Self-Absorbed) the couple was intent on bringing art to Cedars-Sinai.
Marcia Simon Weisman sits with Andy Warhol for the artist's 1977 book signing at Cedars-Sinai.
"They walked around and saw all of these empty corridors," Lange said. "So they made a huge push to add art to the medical center."
The couple began by donating hundreds of pieces from their own notable holdings; works by pop artists Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol; abstract expressionists Jackson Pollock, Frank Stella and Willem de Kooning; surrealists such as Max Ernst, Joan Miró and René Magritte; and European modernists including Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky.
Marcia Weisman became passionate about the idea of filling the hospital with great works. She urged everyone she knew in the art community to donate — gallery owners, art buyers, grateful patients, and even the artists themselves. "She was out there pounding the pavement," Lange said. "She started this tradition of giving art to the hospital."
Today, the Advisory Council for the Arts (ACA) comprised of fine art aficionados and art professionals — many who knew the Weismans personally — continues their mission. Together the group reviews every work offered to the medical center, aware of keeping true to the couple’s singular vision.
A patient admires works on the medical center's seventh floor, including a portrait of Frida Kahlo by artist Richard Durado.
Virtually every piece in the medical center's art collection is showcased. Public spaces are also transformed; sculptures by Frank Stella and Fletcher Benton are installed in public courtyards and walkways, while original paintings, photographs and lithographs by iconic artists such as David Hockney, Claes Oldenburg and Jasper Johns reside in the hospital's corridors, lobbies and offices.
For patients and their families, the art provides a source of comfort and inspiration in a setting that's often very stressful. This unexpected encounter with art can be a meaningful and joyful surprise.
"Art heals — I see it firsthand with patients every time I give them tours," said Lange, recalling to a recent conversation with a woman residing in the medical center. "She told me that she walks through the corridors and looks at the art, and for that bit of time, she's transported," Lange said. "Hearing her talk about how the art works for her reminds me of why I'm here, and why what we're doing with the collection makes sense."
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