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Beatrice Gersh, L.A. Patron of the Arts, Dies at 87

Beatrice Gersh Portrait - P 2011

Matriarch of the Gersh Agency helped establish Museum of Contemporary Art in 1979.

Beatrice Gersh, a philanthropist and pioneering force in the Los Angeles contemporary art community for more than a half-century and the wife of Gersh agency founder Phil Gersh, has died. She was 87.

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Gersh, the mother of current agency co-presidents David and Bob Gersh, died Sunday of natural causes surrounded by family at her home in Los Angeles. Phil Gersh, who established the firm in 1949, died in May 2004 at age 92.

A noted collector and lifelong patron of the arts, Beatrice Gersh was part of a small group that in 1979 began the crusade to build the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Gersh remained an ardent supporter of MOCA throughout her life; she received the museum's first Distinguished Women in the Arts award in 1994 and was a Life Trustee of the museum.

Gersh and her husband donated to MOCA such pieces as Jackson Pollock’s 1948 drip painting Number 3; David Smith’s towering aluminum sculpture Cubi III; and L.A. artist Edward Ruscha’s painting Picture H House. In 1989, MOCA presented Selections From the Beatrice and Phillip Gersh Collection, an exhibition displaying pieces gifted to the museum by the couple as well as selections from the Gershs’ private collection. On the plaza at MOCA there is a major sculpture by Nancy Rubins, Airplane Parts, that was purchased in 2002 in honor of Beatrice.

In 2000, Beatrice and Phil were honored in The Collector as Patron in the 20th Century, an exhibition at Knoedler & Company gallery in New York that explored the role of patronage in building America’s public art collections. The show, curated by art historian Irving Sandler, featured five paintings from the Gersh collection.

The couple began accumulating art in the 1950s and were among the first collectors of modern and contemporary art in Los Angeles. They supported several prominent art institutions and served on the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Modern and Contemporary Art Council for many years.

Beatrice also was a founder of the Los Angeles Music Center and a longtime member of the Music Center's Blue Ribbon group.

In addition to sons David and Bob and their wives Susan and Linda, Gersh is survived by her brothers Charles and Leon Aberle and her grandchildren Steven and his wife Christy, Laura, Jessica, Billy and Annie.

Funeral services will be held at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary in Los Angeles. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Museum of Contemporary art.