Hollywood Lawyer Alan Hergott and Curt Shepard Donate 22 Artworks to MOCA

Noah Webb
Curt Shepard (left) and Alan Hergott in their home with (from left) 'Ben' by Gillian Wearing and Rudolf Stingel's 'Untitled 2012.'

The top attorney (whose clients include Brad Pitt and Russell Crowe) and his partner have built a male-focused collection, featuring pieces by artists Doug Aitken, Andres Serrano and more. Their gift represents "unconditional love," says museum director Philippe Vergne.

"I negotiate all day long for a living," says Alan Hergott, a partner at Bloom Hergott Diemer Rosenthal LaViolette Feldman Schenkman & Goodman and one of Hollywood's top attorneys (clients include Brad Pitt and Russell Crowe along with mega-producers David Heyman and David Yates), who in 2012 hammered out the deal that installed Kathleen Kennedy as president of Lucasfilm.

So it's a bit of a surprise that he and his partner of nearly 30 years, Curt Shepard, don't dwell on deal points when it comes to donating pieces from their trove of art. In February, the couple — as they now reveal to THR exclusively — gifted 22 significant works from their collection to MOCA. Their donation is going to the museum now — unlike many large art donations, including former Univision CEO Jerry Perenchio's $500 million bequest to LACMA, which will go into effect upon his death — and their agreement with the institution dispenses with a prevalent stipulation: a clause requiring MOCA to exhibit the pieces. "These clauses are about desires for power and control and legacy and immortality," says Hergott, 67, who says he has seen almost every exhibit ever mounted at MOCA. "We are looking forward to seeing the interesting juxtapositions that MOCA will make between the works in our collection and the works already in the museum."

For MOCA director Philippe Vergne, the couple's gift — which includes major pieces by such artists as Doug Aitken, Matthew Barney, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Collier Schorr, Lari Pittman, Andres Serrano, Elliott Hundley and Catherine Opie — represents "unconditional love," he says. "It means they respect what our curators are doing. This is a sign of philanthropy at its highest level." Counting previous donations, Hergott and Shepard, 60, have now donated 40 works to MOCA. The couple also has donated pieces to LACMA and in December gave the Hammer Museum a sculpture by Matthew Monahan and a photographic work by Friedrich Kunath; they ultimately intend to give away their entire collection, which includes about 150 other works. "They are extremely present in the Los Angeles art community, which takes energy and dedication and a real belief in artists," says architect Michael Maltzan, who built the couple's home in 1998. The MOCA donation, says Hergott, "represents the biggest public declaration so far on our part to practice what we preach. This was a good time to step it up and make more of a statement about our intentions."

Something may be lost, however, when their collection is no longer whole. Uncommonly for collectors, Hergott and Shepard, who recently transitioned from a role at the L.A. LGBT Center to a newly created position at the Hammer Museum as chief of staff, have a focus that guides their acquisitions: works exploring male identity. "Everything is articulated around their core interest in male representation and the male figure as it is seen in the last 40 years of art-making," says Vergne. The collection encompasses everything from pieces that look at men in the workplace to provocative nudes to nearly abstract paintings.

Shepard and Hergott first met at a benefit for an organization that provided social services to gay and lesbian adolescents. Shepard used to work for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and Hergott was one of the very rare out gay men three decades ago who would bring his partner to industry events. "There would be gay people, but there wouldn't necessarily be gay couples," says Shepard.

When they decided to focus on masculinity in art, it wasn't a political gesture. One of the oldest pieces in their collection is a Robert Longo drawing of a man falling into another's arms "in a sort of dance," says Hergott. Once they set their course, though, they found skepticism. "People would say, 'Oh, the gay collection,' " says Shepard. Adds Hergott, "There was suspicion about the seriousness of the intention and the quality of the undertaking." In 2015, their photo collection was the subject of its own exhibition, titled "He," at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

The couple's sparsely decorated house — a 5,000-square-foot zinc and stucco contemporary off Coldwater Canyon, where they rotate what's on their walls every 12 to 18 months — was built to spotlight art. "We wanted [Maltzan] to be inspired by minimalist artists like Donald Judd and Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt, and we wanted it to function as a sculpture from every vantage point," recalls Hergott. One of the architect's surprising decisions was to limit the enviable views of the city. "Houses in the hills are very often all about walking in and opening up to an extraordinary view," says Maltzan. "I had to figure out a way to slow down the experience so that the art could take prominence." The house, his first ground-up commission, helped establish Maltzan as one of the art world's go-to architects. He later designed a temporary space in Queens for MoMA in 2002, built Regen Projects' Hollywood space in 2012 and was hired by Michael Ovitz to build a 28,000-square-foot museum-like residence for the former CAA and Disney chief. (Recalls Hergott, "[Ovitz] and Judy [Ovitz's ex-wife] came to a dinner at our house shortly after we moved in and said, 'That's it, we're hiring this guy,' and they did.") Maltzan now is overseeing the expansion of the Hammer.

Much of the couple's social life revolves around the art world, which increasingly intersects with Hergott's professional realm. "They were early collectors of my work in the '90s, and they support artists not only as collectors but also through friendship and interesting conversations," says Opie. In 2009, Hergott and client Pitt walked Switzerland's Art Basel fair, where the actor acquired a nearly $1 million Neo Rauch painting. Hergott also played a part in Fox Television Group's financial support of "Mastry," an exhibit by Kerry James Marshall that opens March 12 at MOCA. Marshall is one of a number of African-American artists whose works Empire creator Lee Daniels has included in the set design of the hit Fox show; Empire actors Xzibit, Serayah McNeill and Morocco Omari are set to attend the MOCA opening. Hergott reached out to Fox Networks chairman and CEO Peter Rice and Empire showrunner Ilene Chaiken, both clients of his, as well as Fox Television Group chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman, at the behest of MOCA's chief curator, Helen Molesworth. "They are all friends of mine, and they immediately jumped on the bandwagon," says Hergott. "It's gratifying to see these different universes overlapping more and more."

This story first appeared in the March 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.