Cramer once headed Paramount Television and was integral in launching shows such as The Love Boat, Wonder Woman, Dynasty, Mission: Impossible, and more to mass success. With the fortune he assembled, he bought hundreds of artworks. He also served on the boards of the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
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In a 2012 interview with Christie’s, Cramer discussed three artists who became the cornerstones of his collection: Johns, Kelly, and Roy Lichtenstein, all of whom Cramer came to know personally. Over time, his collection also came to include a spread of artists spanning multiple generations, among them David Salle, Julian Schnabel, Joel Shapiro, Cecily Brown, Frank Stella, Susan Rothenberg, Mark Grotjahn, and more.
Richard Koshalek, the former director of MOCA, once told the Los Angeles Times that Cramer’s collection was “extraordinary.” Cramer ranked on the ARTnews Top 200 Collectors list 17 times between 1990 and 2008.
Born in 1931, Cramer moved to California in 1966 and eventually built out an expansive home for his holdings in Santa Ynez, about 40 minutes north of Santa Barbara. When, in 1997, Cramer announced plans to sell off 22 sculptures from his collection at Christie’s and said he would be relocating to New York, the Los Angeles Times called it a “major change in his life that represents a loss to Southern California.” Later on, he moved to Miami.
Cramer had become influential in Southern California because he was involved in the formation of L.A.’s MOCA in 1979. In a 1995 Vanity Fair interview, Cramer credited TV executive Barry Lowen with helping introduce a rising crop of collectors, including himself, to the work of artists like Eric Fischl and Donald Judd, and to gallerists like Larry Gagosian. Alongside collectors like Michael Ovitz, Eli Broad, and Donald L. Bren, Cramer was often credited at the time with stimulating an interest in buying art among Hollywood elite during the era. By the time Cramer left MOCA’s board in 1996, he had served as the board president and given a host of significant works to the museum.
When Cramer departed his Santa Ynez ranch, artworks from his collection were also given to the Tate in London, MoMA, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Among the works MoMA received was Kelly’s Three Panels: Orange, Dark Gray, Green (1986), a 34-foot-long painting composed of three giant swatches of solid color. “It’s exactly the kind of Kelly we didn’t have,” Kirk Varnedoe, then MoMA’s director, told the New York Times.
Periodically, Cramer parted ways with works from his collection at auction. In 2012, he sold $25 million worth of paintings and sculptures at Christie’s, including works by Johns and Kelly. But for the most part, it was rare for Cramer to sell the art he owned—mainly because he enjoyed admiring the work. In 2014, he told Architectural Digest, “I’ve always loved looking at and possessing things.”