Blake Byrne, a co-founder and former president of station owner Argyle Television and one of the world’s leading art collectors, has died. He was 83.
Byrne died peacefully in his sleep at his home in the Hollywood Hills early Sunday morning, Barbara Schwan, executive director of The Skylark Foundation, told The Hollywood Reporter.
Byrne founded The Skylark Foundation, a philanthropic family enterprise that funds art and the humanities, education, environmental protection and services for women, the elderly and gay and lesbian youth, in 1995.
He came to Los Angeles in 1989 to become president and general manager of KCAL-9. Three years later, he co-founded Argyle Television in L.A. and San Antonio. (Argyle went on to merge its stations with those of the Hearst Corp. in 1997.)
Born on July 2, 1935, in Columbus, Ohio, Byrne received his bachelor of arts degree from Duke University in 1957 and an MBA from Columbia University in 1961; that year, he joined CBS in New York as a sales executive.
Byrne later worked at stations in Portland, Oregon, and Providence, Rhode Island, before becoming president and general manager of KXAS-TV in Fort Worth, Texas, and then group vice president of television for KXAS owner LIN Broadcasting in 1982.
Most recently, he was chairman of the Byrne Acquisition Group (his son John Byrne’s company), which owns TV and radio stations in Wisconsin and South Carolina.
In 2005, Byrne gifted 123 works to L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art in what was the largest private donation in the history of the museum. He was a MOCA trustee since 1999 and a lifetime trustee since 2011.
He also donated pieces to The Nasher Museum on the Duke campus in Durham, North Carolina; to the Fort Worth Art Museum; and to Centre Pompidou in Paris.
Before he got into collecting, Byrne “didn’t even know what I liked,” he recalled in a 2015 interview with Art+Auction magazine. New York dealer Jack Tilton suggested that he attend Art Basel, and after two trips to Switzerland, he bought six pieces in 1988 on a budget of $60,000.
“That was the beginning of the collection,” he said. “After I got those first six, I was bitten.”
His collection included works from the likes of Martin Disler, Richard Tuttle, Marlene Dumas, Andy Warhol, Barbara Lekberg, Jackson Pollock and John Baldessari.
In 2012, Byrne was honored with a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, given to those who have made a significant contribution to the arts, literature or the propagation of these fields in France.
In addition to his son, survivors include his daughter, Jocelyn; his daughter-in-law, Charlotte; grandchildren John Morris, James, Lily, Oliver, Benito and Diego; and partner Justin Gilanyi.