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Remembering Blake Byrne

Blake Byrne poses with works of art in his collection at his home in Hollywood Hills, California. Photo by Ed Carreon.

In 2005, Blake donated 123 artworks to MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art), the largest donation to this day. Working with the curator, Paul Schimmel, together they selected important works that the museum coveted such as a Gordon Matta-Clark building fragment along with a prized video, Drumroll, by the filmmaker and video artist, Steve McQueen. Blake was also instrumental in expanding the contemporary art collection at the Nasher Museum at Duke University as the founding chairman of the Nasher Museum’s Board of Advisors, he gave 284 works of art in 2017. As soon as Blake gave a large gift to an institution, he saw it as a clean slate to make room for new discoveries.

Installation view of Steve McQueen: Drumroll, June 28 - September 21, 2014 at MOCA Pacific Design Center, courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, photo by Joshua White

Working with Blake was always interesting, he was less motivated in the investment or future value of an artist’s work and more engaged with the experience of art and living with the works he collected. Or course, he was happy when an artist’s work went up in value but he hated to sell unless it was for a ridiculous amount of money that would enable him to buy more art.

As with many collectors, Blake bought video art but after a while didn’t know quite how to display it or live with it. He had a box full of videos in different formats that he could no longer play.

In the early days of developing ArtPlay, Blake heard the concept over lunch and said one thing, “I want that!” Blake was one of ArtPlay’s first members and he was an enthusiastic and patient supporter. He tested out our new software while we digitized his video collection and created an archive for him to be able to watch his video art collection anywhere in the world. 

Blake’s enthusiasm and embrace of new art and even technology at the age of 83 was an inspiration. Blake passed away earlier this year in Los Angeles.


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