From Doctor to Donor: Behind a Big Campus Gift of Contemporary Art

USC Fisher Museum of Art. Photo: USC

USC Fisher Museum of Art. Photo: USC

The title of a recent IP post, "Inside a Fundraising Juggernaut: How USC Pulls In the Big Bucks" wasn't unnecessarily hyperbolic. It seems like every month or so we come across news of a big gift to the school.

What's more, these gifts are diverse in their scope, ranging from $15 million for a more integrative residential college experience to $7 million for violin and cello students. Money seems to be flowing in from all directions. 

Which brings us to the school's most recent windfall.

Eugene (Gene) Rogolsky, a Beverly Hills AIDS research clinic doctor, has given his collection of more than 700 works to the USC Fisher Museum of Art. Rogolsky's 30-year journey from doctor to donor is a startlingly unique one.

According to the Jewish Journal, patients began showing up to Rogolsky's North Hollywood practice in the early 1980s with symptoms that were virtually undiagnosable. Yet Rogolsky didn’t turn them away like so many other practitioners in his field had. 

One of those casualties of the AIDs epidemic was one of Rogolsky's former patients, Carlos Almaraz, a Chicano artist who died in 1989. "Carlos woke me up to art," said Rogolsky. "He was the beginning, and then I branched out" into the world of collecting. 

Fast forward to 2016. As previously noted here on IP, the acquisition of contemporary art is but a means to an end. The real work begins after the work arrives on the back of a flatbed truck. To that end, USC envisions the Rogolsky Collection will help it "build bridges among divergent disciplines" and "create new opportunities for audiences to practice the virtue of looking intensely, while shining a light on the art and history of Los Angeles," the Rogolsky's hometown.

Rogolsky's gift also suggests that there's still a place for what what the New York Times calls the "Old World model of giving," where collectors want everything they’ve collected to stay together. 

"I was concerned with what would happen to the collection," he said. "It took such a burden off my mind because there’s a relationship between you and the art. I am grateful to [be] giving the work a home." The museum will acquire the full collection after his death.