A decade ago, distinguished University of Wisconsin-Madison alumni Jerome and Simona Chazen made a $20 million donation in support of the school's art museum expansion. Formerly known as the Elvehjem Museum of Art, the institution was renamed in honor of the Chazens.
Now, the couple has pledged another $28 million gift to their alma mater, in the form of several valuable pieces of art from their private collection, an additional gift of $5 million for the Chazen Museum building, and $3 million to establish the Chazen Family Distinguished Chair in Art and the Simona and Jerome Chazen Distinguished Chair in Art History. The gift was announced Thursday evening at a "Wisconsin Ideas" alumni event in New York City.
As a state educational resource, the Chazen Museum of Art is home to the second-largest collection of art in Wisconsin: more than 20,000 works. including paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, photographs, and decorative arts. Jerry Chazen (B.A.'48, Economics), founder and chairman of Chazen Capital Partners and chairman emeritus and co-founder of Liz Claiborne, Inc., said he hopes that the gift will help elevate the University of Wisconsin-Madison as one of the leading institutions for the arts.
"My wife and I are avid collectors and, more, lifelong arts enthusiasts and arts education advocates," Chazen said. "We have a shared vision for the Chazen Museum of Art to become a world-class museum — a beacon for art lovers in Madison, across the state of Wisconsin, and in the bigger-picture arts landscape." Simona Chazen, who sits on the advisory council of the museum, added, "To continue to introduce new audiences to the arts, especially at an early age — that's what brings us the greatest joy."
Beyond a proclivity for philanthropy, the Chazen family exhibits a deep and longstanding appreciation for the arts, centered on visceral and visual appeal. They began collecting art more 50 years ago and, today, their personal collection includes more than 500 pieces — prints, paintings, drawings, glass and ceramics, and sculpture — by some 200 modern and contemporary artists.
Their interests are broad and their taste, eclectic. They boast a large collection of contemporary ceramics and modern studio glass. And their paintings are especially noteworthy, including some of the most remarkable works — many of which have never been seen publicly — by the most important artists of the 20th century.
Key works from the Chazen collection include: Robert Motherwell, Elegy to the Spanish Republic #125 (1972); David Hockney, The Sixteenth V.N. Painting (1992); and Roy Lichtenstein, Two Figures (1977).
"The Chazens have been unbelievably generous in their support of the museum, and this bequest greatly furthers our mission to become a leading cultural resource for the Madison community and beyond," said museum director Russell Panczenko.
In addition to Chazen Museum of Art stewardship, the Chazens are great champions of the arts in New York City, where they reside. Jerry Chazen is chairman emeritus of the board of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, and is former vice chairman of the board of trustees at the Fashion Institute of Technology. He is also a board member of the Newport Jazz Festival Foundation. Simona Chazen is a past board member of the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass and the Creative Glass Center of America.