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(Fragment) Paul Mccarthy. Tomato Head (Green). From Norton’s collection

Philanthropy in Moscow and the Public Messiah Peter Norton 0

Anna Iltnere

On November 8 and 9, Christie’s will organize a charitable auction in Moscow where the contemporary art collection of renowned American philanthropist and IT software magnate Peter Norton (1943) will be placed “under the gavel.” Of course, not the entire collection, which is so large that the sixty works selected for the auction are just a proportionally insignificant fragment of the whole. Nevertheless, the moral satisfaction that this event brings to Norton is inestimable. In order to address the question of the private collector’s responsibility (or, rather, mission) toward public collections—for example, museums—the Moscow branch of Christie’s organized a discussion at ART MOSCOW 2011 called “What Does Public Responsibility Mean to the Private Collector?” At the center of the discussion was Peter Norton and his relationship with philanthropy.

Peter Norton, an Adherent of In-Depth Collecting

Norton didn’t come personally to Moscow, but his position was represented by Thomas Solomon (US, 1969), an art critic, curator, and son of the famous 1960s American art collectors Horace and Holly Solomon. For several decades, Solomon has been Norton’s consultant in matters related both to building his private collection and to donating works of art to museums. During the course of the discussion, Solomon outlined the antivirus software inventor and art lover’s contributions, explaining that Norton’s support for young local artists in Los Angeles in the 1980s and 90s helped create conditions where a convincing generation of artists could firmly establish itself. Norton’s signature, both when he began his career as a collector and also later, is to visit an artist’s first solo shows and simultaneously to purchase several works, thereby establishing a stable platform under the young talent’s feet, on which he can gain a foothold for further growth. This is known internationally as “in-depth collecting,” an approach that is certainly well-known to Solomon himself, whose mother, Holly, when teaching her son about the art market, once said, “If you like one, buy twenty.”  

Paul McCarthy. Tomato Head (Green). 1994. From the collection of Peter Norton 

After establishing himself in the IT business, Norton could afford to acquire world-famous and incredibly expensive works of art. Yet he was more engaged by assuming a risky trust in a young talent’s future, which in the majority of case has proven to be justified. Looking over the figures in his private collection, we see that names which were once unknown are now world-renowned—for example, Paul McCarthy (1945), Takashi Murakami (1962), Charles Ray (1953), Jim Hodges (1957), and a string of others.  >>