Last week, just before the press tour of the new Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), architect Renzo Piano thanked the patrons of his newest building and described the Resnicks as “lovable clients.”
Hearing this from the Italian architect, Lynda Resnick threw back her head and laughed boisterously. A longtime LACMA board member and avid collector of rococo and old-master painting and sculpture, she is the more public and talkative half of the Resnick couple, who own FIJI Water, POM Wonderful pomegranate juice, more than 118,000 acres of agricultural land, as well as a number of other companies. They are estimated to be worth $1.79 billion, according to the Los Angeles Business Journal, and they donated $45 million to help LACMA construct the new building, which sits just north of LACMA’s Broad Contemporary Art Museum and was also designed by Piano. The museum is celebrating the pavilion’s opening this weekend by opening the entire museum to the public free of charge, including the three separate exhibits installed in the new 45,000-square-foot pavilion.
Despite the fact that the building bears their name and showcases a selection of more than 100 paintings, sculptures and decorative artworks from the Resnicks’ personal collection, Lynda Resnick makes a point of focusing the celebration’s attention on the others who made the project possible, in particular LACMA director Michael Govan.
“Really, Michael built the building,” Lynda Resnick said in an interview with The Jewish Journal last week. “It’s his vision. He and Renzo. Not only didn’t we micromanage, we never saw it, actually, except for in a couple of stages.
“As long as we understood the basic parameters of what it was going to be, conceptually — the idea of one floor, light — ethereal light — coming into this building, you know, we were cool,” she said, admitting, though, that the hands-off attitude she took isn’t her normal style. “That isn’t to say that I’m like that with the rest of my life,” she said, “because I’m not.”
Indeed, Lynda Resnick is known for throwing herself headlong into the companies she and her husband own. When the couple bought Teleflora in 1979, she took over the marketing and came up with the idea of “flowers in a gift,” which turned the upstart floral delivery service into the market leader. When the pair bought the Franklin Mint a few years later, Lynda Resnick shifted the company’s focus from coins and vases to more lucrative products such as models of classic cars, collectible Scarlett O’Hara and Marilyn Monroe dolls and “authentic” replicas of Jackie Kennedy’s triple-strand necklace of fake pearls.
The Resnicks’ Beverly Hills mansion is filled with art, only a small sliver of which will be on view at LACMA. (The couple has promised the museum $10 million worth of art from their collection.) Lynda Resnick is famous for populating the 25,000-square-foot Sunset Boulevard manse with the very rich, the very accomplished and everyone in between. She counts among her close friends activist/documentary producer Laurie David (“An Inconvenient Truth”), actress Rita Wilson and media maven Arianna Huffington.
No surprise, then, that Lynda Resnick keeps company with some of Los Angeles’ most powerful and prominent Jews, including Michael Milken. “He’s one of the most wonderful people in the world,” she said. She sits on the Milken Family Foundation board, and she vividly remembers how she and the philanthropist, financier and famous felon first met. “We both have children with epilepsy,” Resnick said, “and he heard that I needed a doctor. So he called me and set me up with a very good doctor to help my son. And he called me on the day he got out of jail, which I was rather impressed with, because I didn’t know him at the time.”
Over the years, the Resnicks have made generous gifts to a variety of causes. They support arts education in California’s Central Valley and conservation efforts in the Fiji Islands and elsewhere, and they helped establish a sustainability research institute at Caltech. All this, and the building at LACMA, have brought the Resnicks a lot of publicity, but when Lynda and Stewart were asked recently to sign the Giving Pledge, an initiative by fellow billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates to get the wealthiest Americans to commit to giving away the majority of their wealth during their lifetimes, the Resnicks declined.
“We’re uncomfortable with it,” Resnick said. “And a very good friend of mine — who has much more money than we do — said the same thing, because I asked him what he was going to do. It’s a grandstand play.”
“We’re giving our money away,” she added. “And, God willing, we’ll have a lot to give. It’s the only reason we work. But I don’t like the letter thing at all.”
(This week, the Federal Trade Commission charged POM Wonderful with making false and unsubstantiated claims about the health benefits of the juice, claims the Resnicks plan to contest.)
Meanwhile, there’s at least one other place where the POM queen is maintaining a low profile: Facebook.
“How else am I going to find out what my granddaughters are up to?” she said. “So I, you know, in a fake nose and sunglasses, go on Facebook and follow their every move. It’s disgusting. And when they do something I hate, I can’t say anything because then they’ll know. I’ll be busted.”