Blake was an incredible human being and extremely generous to the Nasher, in gifts of art, financial support and service. He was the founding chairman of the Nasher Museum’s Board of Advisors, and has been on the board since the very beginning. We were privileged to be able to work so closely with this wonderful man. He was very wise, with the best sense of humor, and the greatest laugh on Earth. He will be greatly missed.Sarah Schroth, Mary D.B.T. and James H. Semans Director Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University
Biography, Memorial Celebrations, Donations in His Honor
Duke graduate E. Blake Byrne (T’57), a passionate collector, longtime supporter and dear friend of the Nasher Museum, died in Los Angeles on March 23, 2019, at the age of 83.
Blake Byrne earned a bachelor of arts degree from Duke University in 1957 and an MBA from Columbia University in 1961. He married Mary Frances Bowden (Duke Class of ’58) in 1960. They raised two children together, John and Jocelyn.
Blake spent 35 years in television broadcasting beginning at CBS in New York, with interim stops along the way at Chris Craft Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon; Outlet Broadcasting in Providence, Rhode Island; LIN Broadcasting in Ft. Worth-Dallas and New York; and Disney in Los Angeles, before becoming Co-Founder and President of Argyle Television in Los Angeles and San Antonio, Texas. Most recently, he was Chairman of the Byrne Acquisition Group (his son John Byrne’s company) with television stations in Madison, Wisconsin, and Hilton Head, South Carolina, and radio stations in Myrtle Beach and Clemson, SC.Show More
An exhibition of both iconic and lesser-known works from some of the most significant and compelling artists of the last 50 years, Open This End: Contemporary Art from the Collection of Blake Byrne traced a number...
My time at the Nasher is marked by the first time I saw the Kehinde Wiley piece in the Blake Byrne collection. I’m not sure what I was expecting to find when I crossed the Great Hall to see the collected works of a Duke alumnus, but a life-sized oil painting of a black man in present day attire rendered with the regalia of a 17th-century monarch was not it. I could feel a shift in my perceptions just from looking at the work and I knew this was art. I’m grateful to the Nasher for giving me that experience.Kay Hubbard (T’07)
Blake Byrne, class of ’57, promised a gift of 33 works of art worth $1 million to the Nasher Museum, doubling the museum’s collection of cutting-edge contemporary art. The 2007 exhibition Collected Identities: Gifts fr...
Duke graduate E. Blake Byrne (T’57) made a gift of 284 works of art to the Nasher Museum in spring of 2017, on the occasion of his 60th reunion at Duke. The gift strengthens the Nasher Museum’s growing collection of contem...
Distinguished Alumni Award: Blake Byrne Established in 1983, the Distinguished Alumni Award is the highest award given by the Duke Alumni Association. It is presented to alumni who have made significant contributions in...
view article on DukeToday | Published October 04, 2013
What is my favorite memory from the Nasher after 10 years? Probably the use of my Mark Bradford in the exhibition that Trevor put together along with William Cordova and Robin Rhode. That was one of the earliest Nasher exhibitions. At the time, Mark Bradford was not well known. It’s extraordinary that Trevor was able to do that! Another highlight is the Barkley Hendricks show that was right on the heels of the Bradford show. It introduced Barkley Hendricks to just about everybody on the advisory board. And then, how do you forget "El Greco to Velázquez?" Can’t forget that! It’s been an extraordinary 10 years and I am humbled by the fact that you all saw fit to accept the "Open This End" exhibition for viewing and use in the curriculum. What a thrill for me and I’m so happy that it’s turned out to be a great success as well. What a wonderful 10 years at the Nasher!Blake Byrne (T’57)
Quotes from Friends and Colleagues
“Blake Byrne was a great friend, generous philanthropist, dedicated activist and passionate art collector. He was a tremendous supporter of the Nasher Museum and you can see his imprint all over the collection. You could always count on Blake for an honest answer, an open mind and a great sense of humor. Miss you, Blake. RIP.”
— Trevor Schoonmaker, Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs and Patsy R. and Raymond D. Nasher Curator of Contemporary Art, Nasher Museum
“As the youngest member of the Nasher board, being in meetings with Blake was truly learning from the best. His ideas, his care for the stewardship of the place, his deep responsibility to the museum, his outspoken comments … all a true privilege to have been exposed to. He will be so greatly missed by so many but his legacy will live on through his lasting impact on the Nasher.”
— Katherine Thorpe Kerr (T’04)
“In 1987 I was on a trip to Venice, Italy, and I heard this voice that I recognized as being Blake’s at the bar at the Cipriani Hotel. We struck up a conversation and reminisced about Duke days. As you know, I am a Republican and Blake is a Democrat. I mentioned to Blake that I was raising money for George H.W. Bush for his election—Bush 41—and we struck up a deal that he would write a check for me to elect George H. W. Bush (I’m sure the only Republican contribution he ever made in his life ) and I would write him a check for the Duke Art Museum. It was not yet called the Nasher Museum of Art or indeed even built. Blake has often reminded me of this meeting-by-accident in Venice and the fact that he actually wrote a check for a Republican. We had many laughs together and always joked in a very friendly way about political differences. Blake was a marvel for Duke and the Nasher.”
— Ambassador Brenda LaGrange Johnson
“It was a privilege to know and to work with Blake. His inspired leadership of the Board of Advisors in the first years of the Nasher Museum set the tone for its uncompromising commitment to excellence. His warmth, generosity, and determination helped me in more ways than he knew. My condolences go out to his family and loved ones.”
— Scott Lindroth, Professor of Music, Vice Provost for the Arts at Duke
“Blake was an inspiration in so many ways, from an outstanding board chairman to a passionate art collector to the consummate Duke fan. I will truly miss his company as a friend.”
— Derek M. Wilson (T’86, B’90)
“During my second year on the Friends Board, Blake gifted Nasher with works from his personal collection. In addition to increasing the Nasher’s holdings, this and subsequent gifts served as necessary bridges to the diversity found in Durham. Blake made a lasting difference and will be sorely missed.”
— Angela Terry, former President, Nasher Museum Friends Board, and member, Durham Chapter of the Links, Inc.
“For over a decade I have had the privilege of travelling with Blake as a partner, mentee and companion. His work has impacted me and so many others in ways that are not fully realized. Blake’s unwavering loyalty to our alma mater was the same loyalty he showed me year after year, both of which are evident in the experiences, art works and love he left behind. He will continue to be a part of me and a part of all of us through his philanthropic spirit and passion for people and projects.”
— Justin Gilanyi
“For me personally, Blake served as an influential teacher and mentor, roles that came naturally to him. When I arrived at the Nasher, I knew a bit about contemporary art, but, with a PhD in 18th-century European art, I had not spent a great deal of time immersed in the contemporary art world. Blake took me under his wing and helped me negotiate the teeming and ever expanding world of contemporary galleries, biennials and fairs—from Los Angeles to New York, from Miami to Basel to Venice. In many ways, Blake helped me advance my knowledge of contemporary art. Blake told me that he preferred to get to know an artist’s work and form an opinion of it before meeting the artist. He feared that if he met the artist first he might take a liking to him or her as a person, which could cloud his judgement about the work. That observation has stuck with me, and I have often found it useful, but most of all, it gave further insight into Blake’s sunny and generous disposition and his friendly and open manner, which always put anyone who met him immediately at ease. Blake’s vision, warm heart and generosity of spirit and deed have always inspired me. I am very sad to lose Blake.”
— Kimerly Rorschach, founding director of the Nasher Museum, 2004-2012