For dynamic patron-collectors Josh and Sonya Roth, art is not just a passion, it’s a way of life.
When Philippe Vergne stepped up to become the new director of the MOCA in January, after a well-publicized period of unrest at the museum, Angelenos Josh and Sonya Roth were right there. “It’s such a pivotal moment for MOCA,” attorney Sonya says. “It’s a great time for a comeback.”
Josh met with Vergne for a drink, and sent him a long email that night about a “crazy idea”—launching a Director’s Council group devoted to inspiring the next generation of patrons and helping the museum acquire art from living artists. “He wrote me back after about two minutes,” laughs Josh. “He said, ‘We have to do this.’”
The Roths are more than just patrons of the art world; they’re completely immersed. Josh, an art attorney, spends his days representing 35 different artists in every phase of their careers, setting up business entities, estate planning, credit lines and consignments. “I’ve been around this my whole life. They trust me,” he says. “I just know the context of how these deals are done.”
He’s been developing that frame of reference since practically in utero. The son of Creative Artists Agency co-founder Steven Roth—who’s also a LACMA and MOCA board member and a collector—the 36-year-old spent his childhood visiting galleries and museums as a self-described “art tourist.” Then, after a mind-blowing visit to curator Paul Schimmel’s 1992 show, “Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s,” Josh decided to start his own collection and purchased a Raymond Pettibon drawing. “It captured something in my imagination,” says Josh. “It was like punk music, and comic books, baseball and surfing, masculine, macho.”
His wife was hooked from the beginning, too. The couple met at Loyola Law School and the two were immediately sucked into the vibrant soup of the L.A. arts scene. They attended fairs, gallery openings, hot ticket items such as Jason Rhoades’ quixotic performance piece “Black Pussy,” a bacchanal happening with neon sign-sculpture, impromptu performances and quirky interactive games. Married since May 2007, they continue to explore the ecosystem with their two young children, Anabel, 4, and Colette, 1. One of the first things the girls learned was, “Don’t touch the paintings!” says Sonya. Along the way, the family stumbles upon kindred spirits and artists for their burgeoning collection.
The core of their collecting begins with artists from their own generation. “That way they can grow, and we can grow with them,” explains Sonya. And for every artist on the wall of their 1917 Hancock Park Mediterranean home, there is a backstory. From old friend Alex Israel to an encounter with Sam Durant at Blum & Poe, they’ve come to know these artists and their work very intimately. “We really think they are exceptional,” says Josh. “We are fortunate to know them.”
As for the Director’s Council, 25 members have already toured Regen Projects with Doug Aitken, and followed Sam Falls through a walkthrough of his show at Hannah Hoffman Gallery. Up next: a MOCA tour on Oct. 1 with trustees Cliff and Mandy Einstein. “I believe that people should give back to cultural institutions because we get so much out of them,” says Josh. “It’s up to us now. We’re the stewards of the future.”
By Elizabeth Khuri Chandler.
Photographed by Jessica Sample.