Emily Fisher Landau, Patron of Contemporary Art, Dies at 102
A jewelry heist in her Manhattan home spurred her to start one of America’s premier collections, shown in a private Queens museum and much of it donated to the Whitney.
Emily Fisher Landau, a New Yorker who used a Lloyd’s insurance settlement from a spectacular jewel heist in her apartment to fund what would become one of America’s premier collections of contemporary art, died on March 27 in Palm Beach, Fla. She was 102.
Her death was confirmed by her daughter, Candia Fisher.
From 1991 to 2017, Ms. Landau opened her collection of 1,200 artworks to the public in the Fisher Landau Center for Art, a repurposed former factory in Long Island City, Queens. In 2010, she pledged almost 400 works, then worth between $50 million and $75 million, to the Whitney Museum of American Art, where she had long been a trustee.
Ms. Landau’s trajectory into the art world began unexpectedly on a spring afternoon in 1969, while she was out at lunch. Armed burglars disguised as air conditioning repairmen broke into her apartment in the Imperial House building on the Upper East Side, bound the cook in a guest closet and opened a floor safe hidden inside another closet.
For birthdays, anniversaries and holidays over the years, her husband, Martin Fisher, a real estate developer, had given her parures — matched necklace, earring, ring and bracelet sets holding emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds — along with a 39-carat blue white diamond solitaire. All were kept in the safe.
“I was devastated,” Ms. Landau said of the heist in interviews conducted for a Whitney catalog, “Legacy: The Emily Fisher Landau Collection.” But, she added, “I decided that I didn’t want the jewelry any more. I now had seed money for a collection,” thanks to the insurance settlement.
“What I really wanted to buy was paintings,” she said, “so probably the theft was one of the best things that ever happened to me.” (The scene of the crime, Imperial House, on East 69th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues, had been built by her husband’s company, Fisher Brothers.)
Ms. Landau had aspired to become an artist before her father, also a developer, sent her to secretarial school. Later, without ever having taken an art history class, she started collecting informally. After the jewelry theft, her first major piece was a three-and-a-half foot tall Calder mobile, which she bought in 1968 from its owner on Central Park West.
“I didn’t have a car and driver in those days, and so I came back on the crosstown bus on West 86th Street and stood up and carried the Calder like a Christmas tree,” she said. “Nobody asked me anything.”
Ms. Landau soon discovered the work of Josef Albers when, walking along East 57th Street, she chanced on a poster in a window for a show at the Pace Gallery. “It startled my eye — so minimal,” she said. “From the moment I saw that Albers, I knew I loved simplicity. Albers was my beginning point as a collector. I’ve never collected something because it was fashionable. It was always about what I instinctively liked.”
Her curiosity led her upstairs to Pace and what turned out to be a long relationship with the gallery and its owner, Arne Glimcher. “Originally I bought art with my husband,” she said. Their first large acquisition was a trio of paintings — by Picasso, Dubuffet and Léger — that Mr. Glimcher had shown her, all leaning against a wall in his office. “Later I’d buy on my own,” she said.
She went on to buy works by Matisse, Mondrian, Jean Arp, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, Paul Klee, Louise Nevelson and Lucas Samaras. “I spent all the money on art,” she said. “Those were buy years.”
Pace, along with the Leo Castelli Gallery in Manhattan, remained a major source for her growing collection, but Mr. Glimcher’s gallery partner, Fred Mueller, proved a role model for integrating art, artists and a New York social life. She remembers a party in his spare Gracie Square apartment where Ms. Nevelson, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol circulated among their own artworks with other guests. “His example actually gave me the impetus to collect in depth,” Ms. Landau said.
But then her husband died, in 1976. “After that there was a big gap in the collection,” she said. “I stopped.”
In about 1980, Ms. Landau met and hired the New York theater and restaurant designer Bill Katz to redecorate her apartment on Park Avenue, where she had since moved. The commission morphed into a long-term relationship in which Mr. Katz, also an art consultant, advised her on collecting beyond the core modernists she already had.
“‘Emily, if you want to look at younger people’s work, it would change their lives, and be an interesting experience for you,’” she recalled him telling her.
On studio visits in New York’s heated art world of the 1980s and ’90s, Ms. Landau focused on contemporary works, sometimes buying the whole room, as she did with a Rodney Graham show.
“She had the temperament to move forward with the zeitgeist,” said the New York art adviser Amy Cappellazzo. “She became well known as a major collector, and I think her tastes encouraged that moment through the ’80s and ’90s. Others followed.”
By the mid-1980s, Ms. Landau had become a trustee at the Whitney, where she sat on a succession of boards for nearly 25 years. The fourth floor of the museum, then located on Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side, was named in her honor in 1994, the year she established an endowment for the Whitney Biennial exhibitions.
“She probably has been one of the most important trustees in Whitney history,” said Leonard Lauder, chairman emeritus of the museum.
By the mid-1980s, with the art market swelling in New York and museums expanding across the country, Ms. Landau occupied an increasingly prominent place within New York’s art ecosystem, supporting artists personally and museums institutionally.
Beyond the Whitney, she sat on committees at the Museum of Modern Art and on the boards of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and SITE Santa Fe museum, both in New Mexico. For her support of its cultural institutions, the French government inducted her into the Order of Arts and Letters as a chevalier.
Outside the art world, she established the Fisher Landau Foundation for research on dyslexia and assistance to dyslexic children — she herself was dyslexic — and the Fisher Landau Center for the Treatment of Learning Disabilities for children, adolescents and adults at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. She also had a seat on the board of the Metropolitan Opera.
In the late 1980s, Ms. Landau found a 25,000-square-foot former parachute-harness factory in Long Island City to house her collection — a private museum that would be open to the public at no charge. Max Gordon, a minimalist London architect fresh from his conversion of a paint factory into the Saatchi Collection in London, transformed the Queens plant, a three-story concrete structure, into the Fisher Landau Center for Art.
“With her own museum, she was a great example of the premier collectors in history who collect not just for themselves but for posterity,” Mr. Lauder said. “She was buying more for tomorrow than today.”
Emily Lanzner was born on Aug. 23, 1920, in Glens Falls, N.Y., near Lake George, and grew up in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, living in Emily Court, a building her father, Samuel Lanzner, developed and owned, naming it after his daughter. Her mother, Cecilia Lanzner, was a homemaker.
After a brief marriage, she met and later married Mr. Fisher, at the time the young landlord of an apartment in which she was living in Forest Hills, Queens. She had three children with him, Richard, Anthony and Candia. In 1978, after Mr. Fisher’s death, she married Sheldon Landau, a retired clothing manufacturer. Her son Anthony and his wife, Anne, died in a plane crash in 2003. That same year, her grandson Andrew died in an automobile accident. Richard, her older son, died in 2006. Mr. Landau died in 2009.
In addition to her daughter, Ms. Landau is survived by nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
With the succession of tragedies in her immediate family — all coinciding with changing markets in the art world in the 2000s — Ms. Landau’s interest in collecting diminished.
“From about 2004 to 2008, a lot of hedge fund people speculated,” the New York gallerist Barbara Gladstone said. “They were a different breed, and Emily was happy to step aside. She typifies pre-2000 collectors who made an avocation out of refining their collections. She was not just buying because it would go up in value. That’s a wonderfully old-fashioned tradition.”
Ms. Landau’s Center for Art remained open to the public until 2017. In her last years, she struggled with Alzheimer’s disease and lived primarily in Greenwich, Conn.
“Whenever she spotted a woman wearing expensive jewelry,” her daughter, Candia Fisher, said, “she used to say, ‘That could be art on the walls.’”
Arts in the Garden brings a visual feast to the North Shore
Ask any creative what qualifies as art and they will tell you that art is multifaceted, spanning everything from music and performance to paintings, sculpture, sketch and – to some especially green-thumbed creatives – a meticulously curated garden.
This weekend gardens across the North Shore celebrated all things aesthetically pleasing for Arts in the Garden, a community event that fuses all facets of artistic creation by putting together visual artists, musicians and live performers in the same space.
The annual event, presented by North Van Arts, comprised 13 blooming gardens that traversed themes from ‘engaging’ – a garden with thought-provoking artwork and an active garden with bubbling ponds – to ‘connected’ – another filled with interconnected, meandering trails and musicians who sang on the on the healing power of trees.
“This natural environment lends itself so well to art. Galleries are very restrictive, you’re in a very sterile environment, but this inspires creativity, more authentic conversation,” said Garrett Andrew Chong, a photographer whose images had poked out from flourishing flower beds in a garden on West Vancouver’s Marine Drive.
For the artists participating, the event gave them the opportunity to get out of the stuffy confines of gallery and workspace, and allowed their wares to be viewed and appreciated by a wider audience.
“This is a really, really nice opportunity, this is a very different demographic to where I live, a much different crowd, and it means I can showcase all the different things that I work on,” said artist Emily Picard, an artist from the Sunshine Coast.
Like many of the artists participating, Picard’s creations complemented the space it inhabited. The eclectic nature of her work – Picard’s mediums span acrylic paint, spray paint, watercolour and marker pens – slotted in seamlessly to a garden that was anything but minimalistic.
Aptly categorised under “Ethereal” the North Vancouver garden, number 7 on the tour, had been like a scene from Alice’s Wonderland, complete with chandeliers hanging from the trees – 75 in total – birdcages protruding from flower beds and crystal dinnerware scattered large silvered tables.
Gardener Susan Bath, who has spent 27 years putting the outdoor scene together, said she hopes her mystical greenspace will inspire creativity within all who enter, and will encourage them to embrace whimsy in all its forms.
“I hope this shows that you don’t necessarily have to hire a professional, or be a professional, to create in this way. You don’t need a landscape artist, you don’t need money or a large garden, you just need time and a sense of playfulness,” she said, adding how most pieces had been gifted, bought from charity stores, or picked up from the side of the road.
While some gardens transported guests to Lewis Carroll lands, others set the scene for education. At Garden number 9, dubbed ‘Energized’, the LifeSpace Gardens hosted fellow green thumbs and offered tips and information on urban farming and vegetable growing.
At “Harmony”, garden number 4 on West Vancouver’s Whonoak Road, a fourteen year old food forest on Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) land invited guests to learn about Indigenous plants and healing.
“This is an educational space, where people can come and pick different things that they need from our community, anytime of the year,” said Senaqwila Wyss, the garden’s host, adding how the garden is open to all who want to learn.
Wyss said the event provided the opportunity for guests to learn the names of herbs and plants in the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Sníchim (Squamish language), to learn of Indigenous foods themselves – like the Indigenous wild potato wapato that has been making a comeback in local soil – and to immerse themselves in Squamish culture. Within the garden, musician Rennie Nahanee had delivered song and Squamish storytelling, talking of Elders and canoe experiences.
Whether hosting Indigenous storytelling or abstract art, each garden, said Tary Majidi, artist and host of Marine Drive’s offering, should provoke some sort of response from guests. It should inspire them to create or to engage, to connect with other people more or to just appreciate the smaller, more natural, everyday things in life.
“We could all do with getting off the internet, off social media, and going back to art and going back to the natural world, enjoying nature or clay or paint,” she said.
“If there is one thing that people should take away from this event, it’s that art can heal and that should not be overlooked,” she said.
Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.
Bigger Art in the Park returns this weekend
Last year’s event in Windsor’s Willistead Park broke attendance records. About 40,000 people came through the gate, and sales surpassed years in the past. Event Chair Allan Kidd said one vendor had to drive home for more inventory when they sold out.
More than 250 vendors from Ontario and Quebec registered for this year’s festival. Another 20 food vendors signed up, including local beer, wine, and spirits makers.
A complimentary bike valet is new this year. Those who go will find it at the Chilver Road entrance.
Kids Zone is back with four giant inflatables, face painting, and the chance to meet some of their favourite characters.
A free shuttle service will carry festival-goers to Willistead Park from 1591 Kildare Road and the Hiram Walker parking lot on Riverside Drive at Montreuil Avenue.
Admission is $8 at the gate, but guests can buy a ticket online for $7. There is no charge for children aged 12 and under.
Art in the Park has raised $1.3-million for the Rotary Club of Windsor 1918’s restoration efforts at Willistead Manor and $2-million for local and global projects.
“Much of our community doesn’t know that Art in the Park is a fundraising event. The people who attend help us raise the funds to build schools, drill wells, and deliver books, medicine and wheelchairs at home and around the world,” said Kidd.
Art in the Park on Saturday is from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Masha Titova’s “The Music of Art”
available to read in its entirety here, manage to do.t’s not often that the cover of The New Yorker, traditionally a storytelling image signed by the artist, reflects what goes on behind the scenes at the magazine—but that is what the black and copper shapes designed by Masha Titova for the cover of the June 5, 2023, Music Issue,
The first step was connecting with Titova, a Russian artist who relocated to Montenegro last year, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I asked Titova to use her sense of design to orchestrate a portrayal of a variety of sounds. Titova says, “I don’t play an instrument, but I love music, especially its rhythms, which often inspire me. And when I design, I try to harmonize the various visual shapes as if they were part of a musical composition.”
Once we settled upon the image, we recorded the aural elements that make up the cover’s malleable melody. Some of our more musically adept staffers—including Nick Trautwein, a senior editor who moonlights as a saxophonist, and David Remnick, the editor, on guitar—gathered to interpret Titova’s shapes, selecting the ones they wished to play. Julia Rothchild, a managing editor, who contributed piano, viola, and voice, described the process as “an exercise in synesthesia. What sound would that square make, or those triangles? A thud, or a flutter?”
Impromptu chamber groups formed: a viola-cello duo, a vocal quintet. The musical respite in the middle of the day presented the opportunity to exercise a different kind of focus from that of closing pieces, or making fact-checking calls. The associate research director Hélène Werner, who has played the cello since she was eight years old, said, “Music set me on my way. It was the organizing principle of my childhood. . . . It demands, of those who play it and listen to it, intellectual commitment and emotional honesty. It is generous in return. There is no better teacher.” Rina Kushnir, the art director, also appreciates music for its emotive qualities, for its ability to communicate what is “not possible to express otherwise.” Liz Maynes-Aminzade, the puzzles-and-games editor, says that “drumming and writing (puzzles or otherwise) light up some of the same parts of my brain.” A unifying factor in everyone’s performance was how seriously each performer took their music. One after the other, when their turn came, they paused their casual banter, took a deep breath, played their bit, and only then rejoined the playful green-room atmosphere. It was an unplanned but perfect demonstration of all our colleagues’ marvellous dedication to all they do.
The making of a weekly magazine (or of a Web site, a radio show, a festival, any of our many undertakings) is always a concerted endeavor, but that collaboration happens behind the scenes. This multimedia project, programmed by David Kofahl, the head of the interactives department, with the help of the features editor Sam Wolson, gives a glimpse of the way the efforts of many talented individuals and departments combine to insure that The New Yorker appears on your doorstep (or in your in-box), week after week, as good as we can make it.
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