Gift Makes Chazen Museum of Art a Major Study Center

Isamu Noguchi sculpture

Isamu Noguchi (American, 1904–1988), Trinity (Triple), made in 1987 from a slate prototype executed in 1945, bronze, coating, 55 x 22 x 20 in. Terese and Alvin S. Lane Collection.

A prominent New York City attorney and his wife have bequeathed a major private collection of 20th century sculpture to the Chazen Museum of Art at University of Wisconsin- Madison. The collection from the estate of the late Terese and Alvin S. Lane includes more than 70 sculptures and 250 preparatory drawings from artists such as Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, Noguchi, David Smith and Christo.

“I wouldn’t hesitate to say that, as far as 20th century modernism, this makes us a major study center,” said Russell Panczenko, museum director.

The gift could be the largest single donation of art ever to the museum, Panczenko said. He hesitated to make the claim unequivocally Monday without further research because prior donations may have appreciated in value, he said.

Most of the works will be on display when the museum opens its $43 million expansion in October 2011, Panczenko said. All but one of the sculptures are indoor pieces. None is massive because the Lanes purchased only art that would fit in their house, he said.

Alvin S. Lane grew up in New Jersey and graduated from UW-Madison in 1940. He earned a law degree from Harvard University, then became a partner in a major New York City real estate law firm and a leader of efforts to protect art collectors from fraud.

Lane died in 2007 at age 89. His wife died in March at age 88.

“Some of my father’s happiest experiences were at college in Madison, so it was deeply rewarding for him to be able to give back this incredible legacy,” said daughter Judy Lane of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

Some of my father’s happiest experiences were at college in Madison, so it was deeply rewarding for him to be able to give back this incredible legacy.

Judy Lane, daughter of Alvin Lane

In 1995, the museum mounted a months-long exhibition of the couple’s private collection. Alvin S. Lane, who served on the museum’s advisory council, so loved the installation that discussions accelerated over the collection’s final destination, Panczenko said.

The couple added depth to the collection by acquiring works on paper, often working closely with the artists to do so, Panczenko said.

For instance, the collection includes four sculptures by the late David Smith, an abstract expressionist, plus about 30 drawings spanning a broad range of his career. There are five sculptures by the late Alexander Calder, famous for his mobiles, plus eight of his drawings and one lithograph.

“The Lanes loved the idea of trying to get some understanding of the creative process,” Panczenko said. “They’d get a sculpture by a particular artist and then get the drawings that related to that particular sculpture.”