An Art Collector On a Mission to Share His Passion
Real estate developer Jordan D. Schnitzer manages several billion dollars’ worth of property. He oversees an equally impressive empire as an art collector, owning one of the world’s largest private collections of prints, with 13,000 works by the likes of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns.
For more than three decades, Mr. Schnitzer, 67, has been assembling what he calls a “teaching collection” of prints, largely by American artists of the post-World War II period. Instead of hanging the works at home or keeping them in storage, Mr. Schnitzer established a foundation that lends to museums around the country, with a special focus on getting the works in front of young people.
Many of his loans are to small institutions or ones affiliated with colleges and universities. So far, this year’s lineup consists of more than a dozen shows from California to Massachusetts, including ones at the University of North Texas in Denton and the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, Va.
“I would hope that every student at every community college, every college and university, would make going to an art museum…part of their ordinary campus experience,” he says. He wants to bring art to people in remote areas and break down “the psychological walls that a museum is for someone else, some elitist few.”
A divorced father of four, Mr. Schnitzer is president of Harsch Investment Properties, which his father, Harold, founded in 1951. The privately held firm, based in Portland, Ore., has industrial warehouses, shopping centers, office buildings and apartments in six Western states. At 14, Mr. Schnitzer worked as a janitor in one of Harsch’s apartment buildings. He joined the firm full-time after law school and became president in 1990. Since then, Mr. Schnitzer says, he has expanded the portfolio from about two million square feet to some 26 million.
He says that he finds pursuing real estate and art equally thrilling. The hunt, for properties or prints, is what propels him. “It’s wonderful to have the passion for wanting and never be able to get everything that you want,” he says, “because that would be pretty sad.”
Growing up in Portland, Ore., where his mother, Arlene, ran the Fountain Gallery, “having art around me became second nature,” Mr. Schnitzer says. He would like everyone to experience art’s exhilarating effects. “It stops you in your tracks,” he says. “It takes you away from your issues of the day and refreshes you, distracts you and maybe it helps you think more clearly about your problems.”
Creating a vast lending library of prints happened serendipitously, says Mr. Schnitzer, who also collects paintings, sculpture and other art. Thirty years ago, while browsing in a gallery that specialized in works on paper, he bought a Frank Stella, a David Hockney and a Jim Dine.
That sparked his obsession with prints, of which there are several types, including lithographs, woodcuts and aquatints. Prints are more affordable than paintings, he says, and reflect the collaboration between artist and printmaker.
“When I started collecting, I wanted to marry the passion that I had for buying art with the even greater passion I had for sharing the art,” he says. His lending program began in 1995, when the University of Oregon art museum in Eugene displayed 56 prints. It has mushroomed since then, with more than 100 exhibitions at over 150 museums.
His foundation covers costs such as framing and shipping the works, preparing brochures for the show, even the hors d’oeuvres at the opening reception. Watching visitors react to the images, Mr. Schnitzer says, “I felt a joy that I’ve rarely felt in my life before.”
As a collector, he has homed in on the postwar period. “I’m of that generation,” he says. “These are artists of my time, and the themes that they have are themes of my life and my experiences.”
On a recent visit to the Andy Warhol retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Mr. Schnitzer snapped pictures and then ricocheted around the gallery, a catalog from Bonhams auction house tucked under his arm. As a Whitney expert gave Mr. Schnitzer and his entourage a tour, he fielded calls on two phones while bidding on lots in the Bonhams sale.
“Wow! Oh, my!” he murmured while studying “Nine Jackies,” an acrylic and silkscreen portrait of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. He owns 700 Warhol prints and considers the late Svengali of Pop the greatest American artist of the second half of the 20th century.
Mr. Schnitzer tries to get to every show from his collection and says that he still feels the same thrill as when he started. “I’ll walk in and I burst into tears,” he says. “There’ll be some kind of security, and they’ll look at me and think, ‘What kind of fool is this?’”
He still has the first painting he bought in 1965—“Sanctuary,” an abstract study by Louis Bunce. Mr. Schnitzer bought it at his mother’s gallery. The painting “cost $75 and with the family discount it was $60,” he recalls. “I paid $5 a month, and my mother knew if I missed a payment, she could foreclose since my bedroom was next to theirs.”
In March, his collection will move to a new home in Portland, with offices, an exhibition area and space for 30,000 to 35,000 works—more than double the current size. Mr. Schnitzer would like to strengthen his holdings of prints by Richard Diebenkorn, Ellsworth Kelly and others and collect more emerging artists.
“As much as I may moan and groan the day after an auction and say to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, what did I spend?’” he says, “I’ve never regretted anything I’ve bought. Ever. I’ve only regretted the things I didn’t get.”