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The art of healing
Cedars-Sinai's vast art collection owes its legacy to a patient's recovery a half-century ago
The art collection at Cedars-Sinai, a remarkable assemblage of more than 4,000 paintings, sculptures, photos, drawings and lithographs, was born in a quiet moment of healing.
Marcia Simon Weisman, left, and Andy Warhol
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, also an influential art collector, grew alarmed as her husband struggled to remember her name.
"Mrs. Weisman would bring pieces from their private art collection to the hospital and leave them by her husband's bedside so he would see them when he opened his eyes," said John T. Lange, curator of the Cedars-Sinai art collection.
One morning, Frederick Weisman looked at the jagged lines and splashes of color of the abstract painting his wife had brought in that day and said the artist's name aloud, "Jackson Pollock." He was right.
"He could make that connection to the work of art before he could make the connection to who his wife was," Lange said of Weisman's first step toward recovery. "There was an obvious relationship between the art and his recovery."
In 1976, when the expansion of the medical center was completed, the Weismans toured the new facility. Avid collectors of modern art since their first purchase in the 1950s of Jean Arp's polished bronze sculpture, "Self-Absorbed," the couple focused on placing art at Cedars-Sinai.
"They walked around and saw all these empty corridors with nothing in them," Lange said. "So they made a huge push to add art to the medical center."
The couple began by donating hundreds of pieces they owned,a notable collection that included works by Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella and Andy Warhol, as well as paintings by European modernists like Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky, and surrealist art by Max Ernst, Joan Miro and Rene Magritte.
Marcia Weisman in particular became passionate about the idea of filling the hospital with great art. She urged everyone she knew in the art community to donate – gallery owners, art buyers, grateful patients, even the artists themselves.
"She was out there pounding the pavement herself," Lange said. "She started this history of giving art to the hospital."
In the beginning, the art on the walls was for sale, including a collection of early Persian and Renaissance paintings and reproductions displayed at the medical center in the late 1970s. The proceeds went to fund the art program. The practice since has been abandoned, and all donations become a permanent part of Cedars-Sinai's collection.
Though the Weismans eventually divorced, they remained good friends and continued their devotion to building the Cedars-Sinai art collection until their deaths. Today, an Arts Advisory Committee continues their work. The group, made of up art aficionados, most of who knew Marcia Weisman and thus keeps her singular vision alive, reviews every work offered to the medical center.
While Cedars-Sinai is grateful for the continuing generosity of donors, not all offerings fit the needs of the medical center.
"The advisory committee ensures that any gift pieces are appropriate, that the art being offered will fit the collection, and that it will physically fit into the space available," Lange said. "And we have to make sure it's appropriate for a hospital setting."
Size is one reason an art gift may be declined; it may also be that the work doesn't fit the needs of a facility devoted to healing.
"We're not a museum or a gallery," Lange said. "We have to be mindful of that. We're a hospital and we have a purpose."
Virtually every piece in the medical center's art collection is on display. In patients' rooms, museum-quality framed posters enliven the walls. A number of them have been donated by national museums, a testament to the growing awareness of the link between art and healing.
Throughout the hospital's corridors, lobbies and offices, paintings, photographs and lithographs transform the public spaces. Sculptures can be found everywhere, the larger ones outdoors in public courtyards and walkways. A sizable amount of the art is the original work of a growing number of contemporary masters.
For patients and their families, the art provides a source of comfort and inspiration. In a setting that's often very stressful, to find the heart and soul and meaning embodied in fine art can be a joyful surprise.
"Art heals– it's one of the things I see with patients every time I give them tours," Lange said. He recently spoke with a woman who has spent the last two months in the medical center.
"She said that she walks through the corridors and she 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, it reminds me of why I'm here, and why what we're doing with the collection makes sense."
If you would like to see the CBS Sunday Morning episode featuring our art program, please click here.
If you'd like to discuss donating art to our collection, please contact Linda Kemp at (323) 866-7798.