In Loving Art
- by Matthew Brodsky
“It’s a bit of a long story,” starts Keith Sachs, W’67.
Nevertheless, we have some space here to do our best to encapsulate how fun gifts given between young students became a lifelong love—between two people and between them and the world of art.
Keith met his future bride Kathy, CW’69, at Penn on a blind date set up by friends. She was an art history major and he had always been interested in art. Keith “heeled” the Houston Hall Board as a sophomore and was selected to join the group for his junior year. The senior members then chose him to organize a series of art exhibits in Houston Hall—“probably because they didn’t have too many choices,” is how he explains it in his dry, self-deprecating way. One exhibit was a collection of work from graduate fine arts students, juried by professors. Other exhibits he was not so proud of.
Kathy and Keith discovered their mutual interest in art while at school, and beyond. When Keith graduated, Kathy gave him an old print of the University (which he still hangs in their house). When Keith went to law school, Kathy helped him find works of art for his apartment.
“Because I wanted to have nice things on the wall,” Keith says.
When they got engaged, she got him a Joan Miró print (also still hanging now in their house).
As they prospered in marriage and life, so did their collection. As young adults, the Sachses started by collecting “minor works from major artists” because that is what they could afford at the time, Keith recalls. This was in the 1970s, when Kathy worked at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in public relations (and she later served as a museum guide who eventually specialized in giving tours through its contemporary art collection). The couple consulted Kathy’s museum colleagues about what they should collect, then began looking at artists who were coming of age “with us,” Keith says.
“We set our minds on trying to acquire the best works by those artists,” he says. “We have been relentless in our pursuit of what we wanted to buy.”
He recounts how they succeeded in purchasing Voice II, the three-part drawings by contemporary artist Jasper Johns. When the Sachses saw the work as it was exhibited at the Philadelphia museum, they fell in love with it. They inquired with the Philadelphia Museum of Art director if Johns would sell, but the artist replied that he was “still thinking about it”—meaning the artist was still wanting to take ideas from Voice II for other works. The Sachses then connected with Johns’ dealer in New York, Matthew Marks. New intermediary, but same reply. Johns declined again. They continued their requests regularly for 15 years—until finally Keith told the dealer that he would not give up until Johns agreed to sell it. The artist conceded. The Sachses not only purchased one of Johns’ greatest works, they also developed a “not inconsequential” collection of his other work—much of which they saw first at the artist’s studio in Sharon, CT.
“Getting to know the artists for us eventually became an important part of the equation,” Keith says.
Another important part of their art equation is philanthropy. The Sachses announced in January the donation of 97 works to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, including masters like Johns and Ellsworth Kelly, as well as paintings, drawings, video art, outdoor sculptures and photographs from influential European and American artists.
The Sachses gave 12 works to the museum as 2013 year-end gifts. The museum renamed its suite of galleries devoted to modern and contemporary art “The Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Galleries.” It will hold a dedication ceremony on March 3, 2014. In summer 2016, the museum will present a full-scale exhibition. Keith has been a museum trustee since 1988.
They also support fine arts at Penn. In 2011, for instance, they gifted the School of Design $2.5 million and established a professorship and a fine arts program fund, which followed their endowment of the Sachs Professor of Art History and the Sachs Guest Curator Program at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA). Kathy serves as an emeritus member of the University Board of Trustees and a member of the ICA board. Keith is chairman of the PennDesign Board of Overseers.
An enduring love of art—and service in the name of art—drive the couple—but is this love as shared and mutual as the day they decorated Keith’s law school apartment?
Their mutual appreciation, it seems, is in fact the ultimate test for any work. As Keith explains of how they agree to invest:
“If we don’t agree, we don’t buy it,” he says. “It has to be something we both want to have.”