David W. Bermant Collection
David W. Bermant was a shopping mall developer with great intellectual curiosity and a love for art incorporating science and technology. His private art collection, housed in Santa Ynez Valley, is a dazzling display of light, sound and movement. Most of the pieces are kinetic, and the collection includes seminal works by Marcel Duchamp and Nam June Paik—considered the inventor of video art—and is the largest, most comprehensive private collection of its kind.
Born in 1919, Bermant passed away in 2000—his life spanning a period of tremendous progress in technology. Traditionally, fine art was created with oils or bronze, not fiber optics, computers or television, but Bermant believed experimental art using the latter was “the art of our time which will endure.” He placed more than 100 pieces in public view, mostly in malls he owned.
Good Time Clock IV, a vertical maze of ramps and balls, has delighted passengers at Santa Barbara Airport for more than 20 years. But Big Bil-Bored, a 60-ton glittering mass of cement, televisions, toasters and other technological gadgets, ignited an 18-year squabble among the residents of Berwyn, IL.
The Spindle, also in Berwyn, was just as controversial. A 50-foot-tall stainless-steel pipe that pierced eight cars piled on top of each other, one protester declared, “You call that art? That’s a disgrace!” Others lauded Bermant, calling him the “Medici of the shopping mall.” Love it or hate it, mall art increased visitors by approximately 40%. As a savvy businessman, Bermant was glad for the economic boost, but money was not his motivator in collecting art. It was a passion he shared with his second wife, Susan Hopmans, an art school graduate and painter who helped shape the collection.
A cum laude graduate of Yale University, Bermant earned a bronze star in the Army. He witnessed fellow soldiers die, and swore, “If I ever make enough money that I can be free to do what I want to do, I’m going to try and make the country that I live in a better place.” He had four children from his first marriage—Ann, Jeffrey, Wendy and Andrew Bermant—and one from his second marriage—Bess Rochlitzer, the current president of David Bermant Foundation. Rochlitzer relates how Bermant took a personal interest in artists, “He would make commissions so the artists could pay their rent, pay their bills and have the time to create pieces they envisioned.”
Tours of the private collection with John Hood, art professor at Allan Hancock College, are by reservation only and limited because many of the works are too fragile to be set in motion day after day. As Rochlitzer says, “They have to be babied along.”
Fortunately, public installations include Leadbetter Beach, SunnyField Park in Solvang, Santa Barbara City Hall and Santa Barbara Public Library. Bermant’s foundation has also supported the soon-to-open MOXI Museum, centered on “learning through interactive experiences in science and creativity,” where a larger version of Good Time Clock IV, funded by a Bermant Foundation grant, allows viewers to walk inside and interact with the artwork.
For information about the collection, visit davidbermantfoundation.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story was originally published in the Summer 2016 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.