Margo Leavin, renowned art dealer and influential contemporary art world figure, has died at the age of 85. A graduate of UCLA, she was a longtime champion of artists in Los Angeles, and was the lead donor in the renovation of UCLA’s graduate art studios.
Leavin was born in New York, but spent her adult life in Los Angeles. She earned her diploma from UCLA with a psychology degree in 1958 and became a private dealer in 1967, selling art out of her home until she opened the Margo Leavin Gallery in West Hollywood in 1970. She took on former employee Wendy Brandow as her partner in 1989.
The gallery was renowned for showing cutting-edge contemporary art by emerging and established artists — including John Baldessari, Claes Oldenburg, Lynda Benglis, Sol Lewitt, Agnes Martin and Donald Judd. By the time it closed in 2013, it had produced more than 500 exhibitions, including 400 solo shows. Its archives were acquired by the Getty Research Institute in 2015.
In 2016, Leavin made a gift of $20 million to fund the renovation and expansion of the UCLA Graduate Art Studios. The complex, a former wallpaper factory, had been located in the Hayden Tract in Culver City since 1985. Leavin’s gift is the largest ever made by an alumna to the arts at UCLA. In honor of her contribution, the complex was renamed the UCLA Margo Leavin Graduate Art Studios.
“I’m grateful that my career in the Los Angeles art world has afforded me the opportunity to support those at the very heart of this community: artists,” Leavin had said in a statement. “The students, alumni and faculty from the art department at UCLA shape the future of the arts in Los Angeles and beyond.”
The major restoration and expansion created a new building for the nation’s top-ranked public university to support its leading graduate program. Designed by the Los Angeles-based architecture firm Johnston Marklee and opened in 2019, the 48,000 square foot campus was envisioned as a true artist’s neighborhood. The studios include exhibition galleries, a covered arcade that’s open to the outdoors, a garden and sculpture yards. The spaces were not overly deterministic in order to support the diverse and emerging needs of creative practice.
“Margo, a hero for and of the arts in Los Angeles, liked to say, ‘without artists, there would be no art world,’” said Brett Steele, dean of the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture. “Thanks to her commitment to nurturing the next generation of artistic talent, our students will benefit from state-of-the-art facilities, in which to dream and to create, for many years to come.”