Who knew an untimely injury to Indiana University basketball star Scott May in 1975 would net the school millions of dollars
32 years later?
It was May's injury and IU's subsequent defeat that led Indianapolis businessman Barton Kaufman to New York in March 1975, when he met famous painter LeRoy Neiman. Over the years, Kaufman commissioned 28 original paintings from the artist known for his handlebar mustache, an East Coast flare and works often depicting the world's most famous sports scenes.
Now, Kaufman is auctioning off 26 of those paintings and plans to donate the money to IU, where he earned an undergraduate degree in 1962 and law degree in 1965.
"This collection goes way beyond someone who just found pieces in a gallery," said Mark Ruschman, operator of the local Ruschman Art Gallery. "The fact that Neiman has a worldwide recognition much like Rockwell should make this a good sale."
The sale will kick off with a display at the Centaur Galleries in Las Vegas Memorial Day weekend. Kaufman, CEO of Kaufman Financial Corp., said asking prices were set by an appraisal two years ago.
Art aficionados think some of those prized paintings will fetch as much as $350,000, with the total collection raking in more than $5 million. Subjects range from Reggie Miller to Muhammad Ali. Some, such as Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning--who became the Super Bowl MVP in February--have no doubt increased in value since Kaufman's appraisal, art experts said. Original works depicting a scene from the sailboat race America's Cup and one of Tiger Woods are among the most prized, art appraisers said.
"Bart Kaufman has been supportive of the law school with an endowed professorship, the Kinsey Institute, our athletic department and the cancer research efforts here as well," said Curt Simic, Indiana University Foundation president. "He continues to be a great supporter of this university, and this latest gift is exceedingly generous."
Kaufman intends to keep two treasured paintings by the New York painter. A painting of then-IU basketball coach Bob Knight in a huddle with some of his 1975-1976 era star players, and one of Winston Churchill--whom Kaufman regards as one of the greatest leaders of the 20th Century--will remain hung at Kaufman's office off 96th and Meridian streets.
Kaufman, 66, said he chose IU as a benefactor of the sale due to his longtime affinity for the school and its ability to use large sums of money to reach a broad spectrum of people.
"I graduated from IU, my wife graduated from IU, and my four kids have earned a combined seven degrees from IU, so naturally, I have great passion for the school," Kaufman said. "The school has so many needs, and I know they can use the money wisely."
The exhibit of Kaufman's paintings is slated to last about six months. After the sale is complete, the money will go into a charitable trust, with the benefactor being the Indiana University Foundation, the school's fund-raising and philanthropic arm.
Kaufman has identified three causes at the school he would like his funds to benefit: the athletic department; The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction; and the Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center. Kaufman said exactly how the funds will be divided is still being determined.
Kaufman, an all-Big Ten baseball player at IU in the 1960s, said he targeted the athletic department due to its needs, especially for capital improvements, and because he's been a longtime sports fan. Kaufman also believes the athletic department has a positive effect on countless student-athletes and the larger university.
The cancer center was targeted for funding by Kaufman due to cancer's far-reaching effects on Indiana residents and others, and due to Kaufman's admiration for Dr. Lawrence Einhorn, an IU faculty member and one of the world's most prominent cancer researchers.
Kaufman came to respect the Kinsey Institute's work after seeing a movie about the institute and its founder, Alfred Kinsey. Kaufman noted that IU President Herman B Wells' staunch support of Kinsey's controversial human sexuality research earned Wells a reputation as a champion of academic freedom.
Though it was difficult to bid adieu to his beloved collection, Kaufman said the anguish will be eased by the result. The paintings were removed April 12 from the office where Kaufman has earned a reputation as a financial adviser to some of the most prominent families in Indiana.
"I really had major trepidation when I walked into my office [April 13]," Kaufman said. "The movers took the paintings, but left the hooks in the wall. I took a pair of pliers and removed each hook.
"I didn't want to walk in here and not see those paintings. Each one has a story. But in the end, I was fine, because it's for a greater good."
May's injury starts domino effect
This unlikely tale started with May's broken arm late in the 1974-1975 season. Until May was injured, Kaufman's alma mater was rolling through the season undefeated.
Full of confidence in his beloved Hoosiers, Kaufman and his wife, Judy, made plans to attend the Final Four in San Diego. But IU, with May playing sparingly with a partly casted arm, was defeated by Kentucky one game short of the Final Four.
"The last thing I wanted to do was go see Kentucky play UCLA in the Final Four," Kaufman said.
Since he already planned to take a vacation, he and his wife headed east instead. While in New York, Kaufman went to LeRoy Neiman's studio. Much to Kaufman's surprise, when he asked about buying a Neiman painting, a personal meeting was set up with the artist.
A lengthy friendship followed, with Kaufman commissioning a painting almost every year. The first was baseball legend Pete Rose, followed by Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt and New York Mets and Cincinnati Reds pitcher Tom Sever.
Sever was painted in a Reds uniform, but Kaufman noted if he'd had the painting done in a Mets uniform it would have been worth more. Conversely, Kaufman's speculation on tennis player Pete Sampras when he was an up-and-comer paid off.
"At the time, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier and Michael Chang were all ranked about the same, but I chose to have Sampras painted," Kaufman said. "That ended up being the right choice."
Though Kaufman said he and Neiman never discussed money, Kaufman sent the artist a check for $5,000 for the first commissioned painting, "and a little bit more," for each successive one.
Every painting has a story
Woven into the canvas of each of those paintings is a personal story Kaufman loves to relive. For instance, Kaufman had begged Neiman to paint a picture of coach Knight and/or Indiana University basketball. But Neiman, Kaufman explained, painted only subjects that interested him. He knew little about the Hoosier basketball team, so Kaufman arranged to have Neiman attend the 1979 National Invitation Tournament final in Madison Square Garden between Indiana and Purdue University. Through Knight's wife at the time, Kaufman arranged for Neiman to meet Knight after the game.
"It was quite a feat getting into the locker room," Kaufman said. "But once we got there, they absolutely fawned over each other."
Not long after, Neiman painted the picture of Knight in a sideline huddle.
As flamboyant as Neiman was in his younger days, the 85-year-old artist is now somewhat understated about the demand for his work.
"I suppose the market for my paintings is still quite high, though I don't track it," Neiman said from his New York studio. "I do know that Barton has a good eye and is a real sports nut. So the paintings I did for him should have broad appeal."
Neiman isn't sure how many paintings he has done over his lifetime, but said it's in the "thousands." As prolific as he is, he doesn't know many collections by individuals as big as Kaufman's.
Scott Keller, president of Blackard and Geiger Ltd., a local appraiser of art and antiques, was more definitive about the demand for Neiman's work.
"I can assure you, this collection will attract a wide audience," said Keller, who is also a member of the City-County Council. "LeRoy Neiman has a following in the artistic sector, but he is one of the few artists worldwide which transcends the art world. Even though Neiman was a prolific painter, an original can still be difficult to come by. And the broader the appeal, the higher the value."
"This is a big deal and will be a good deal for the IU Foundation."