Werner Kramarsky, Rights Official and Arts Patron, Dies at 93 – The New York Times

Werner H. Kramarsky, who as a public official helped expand the delivery of health care in New York City and the scope of human rights protections statewide, and who in private life was a patron of artists and a prodigious collector of drawings, died on Thursday at his home in Manhattan. He was 93.

His son Daniel said the cause was pneumonia.

Mr. Kramarsky played a prominent role in two very different domains: the helter-skelter world of state and local politics and the more rarefied sphere of collecting and promoting fine art.

As a special assistant to Mayor John V. Lindsay from 1966 to 1970, Mr. Kramarsky made improving medical care his top priority. He played a key role in consolidating a hodgepodge of municipal agencies and institutions into the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation (now known as NYC Health + Hospitals).

As commissioner of the State Division of Human Rights under Gov. Hugh L. Carey from 1975 through 1982, Mr. Kramarsky ruled that a minimum height requirement for male prison guards was discriminatory; that the New York City Marathon must allow competitors in wheelchairs to participate; that tennis clubs could not offer discounts for married couples; and that job applicants could not be denied work simply for being obese or drug users in treatment.

During Mr. Kramarsky’s tenure, Governor Carey required all companies doing business with the state to adopt employment programs that encouraged hiring members of minority groups. But while the state was promoting an affirmative-action agenda, the human rights division also issued its first ruling on reinstating a white person who had lodged a complaint of racial discrimination.

That decision, in 1976, involved a white acting executive director of Greenpoint Hospital in Brooklyn who had been reassigned and ultimately dismissed in what was described as a cost-cutting move. He had been succeeded in the same job by a black man.

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CreditAnthony Calvacca/New York Post Archives, via Getty Images

Mr. Kramarsky’s most visible legacy was in the art world. He and his wife, Sarah-Ann Kramarsky, assembled one of the largest private collections of works on paper, comprising more than 4,000 pieces of minimalist, post-minimalist and conceptual art. He had inherited his passion as a collector, and the means to pursue it, from his father, a banker.

The Kramarskys donated hundreds of works from their collection to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which named Mr. Kramarsky a life trustee. He was also chairman of the Andy Warhol Foundation and of the Drawing Center in New York.

In 1990 Mr. Kramarsky, as a trustee of his parents’ estate, sold Vincent van Gogh’s “Portrait of Dr. Gachet,” which his parents had acquired shortly before the family fled the Netherlands in 1939 as Nazi Germany prepared to invade. Ryoei Saito, the honorary chairman of Daishowa Paper Manufacturing of Japan, bought the painting at auction for $82.5 million (the equivalent of about $166 million today), a record at the time.

The Kramarskys supported artists through their modestly named Fifth Floor Foundation. From 1991 to 2006 they showcased artists at their noncommercial exhibition space at 560 Broadway in SoHo — a roster that included celebrated names like Eva Hesse, Sol LeWitt, Brice Marden, Agnes Martin and Richard Serra as well as newcomers.

Werner Hans Kramarsky was born on March 5, 1926, in Amsterdam. His father, Siegfried, was an art collector and the director of the Amsterdam branch of a bank with headquarters in Hamburg, Germany. His mother, Violet Ingeborg (Popper) Kramarsky (known as Lola), later became president of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.

After leaving Amsterdam, the family first went to Canada and then to New York. Werner, who was known as Wynn, arrived in the United States when he was 13.

He served in the Navy as a radio operator from 1944 to 1946 and became manager of the overseas department of the investment firm Bache & Company. He attended the New School for Social Research in Manhattan, receiving a bachelor’s degree in 1962, and got involved in local Democratic politics.

Mr. Kramarsky met Sarah-Ann Backer during a successful insurgent campaign to unseat Carmine De Sapio, the Democratic boss of Greenwich Village and the last of the Tammany Hall kingpins. They married in 1959. Ms. Backer’s parents, Dorothy Schiff and George Backer, were publishers of The New York Post; Ms. Schiff succeeded her husband in 1942.

Mr. Kramarsky was attending the New York University School of Law when he dropped out to ally himself with Lindsay, a charismatic liberal Republican congressman from New York who was running for mayor in 1965. Mr. Kramarsky and his wife headed a grass-roots group called Democrats for Lindsay.

During Mayor Lindsay’s first term, Mr. Kramarsky served as the mayor’s representative on the once powerful Board of Estimate, now defunct, which wielded broad control over city affairs.

In addition to his son Daniel, Mr. Kramarsky is survived by his wife, who was a math tutor in addition to being an art collector; another son, Stephen; two daughters, Laura and Anna Kramarsky; and six grandchildren.

What became known as the Sarah-Ann and Werner H. Kramarsky Collection originated in 1958, Mr. Kramarsky once recalled, with the purchase of a $175 Jasper Johns drawing that he paid for in installments over six months.

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CreditBill Cunningham/The New York Times

A half-century and thousands of acquisitions later, Mr. Kramarsky had developed a philosophy of collecting.

“I really start out by looking at something and saying, ‘How is it made?’ not, ‘Why is it made?’” he told the cultural journal The Brooklyn Rail in 2008. “What happened when the artist put the pencil or pen or brush to paper? And because it is almost impossible, when you work on paper, to correct it, that initial moment is crucial. It interests me that somebody had the courage and the idea to make that original mark.”