Major LACMA donor suspends longtime acquisition program
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Major LACMA donor suspends longtime acquisition program
Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo: Carol M. Highsmith.

by Jori Finkel

LOS ANGELES (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- With the Los Angeles County Museum of Art just weeks away from demolishing four buildings on its campus to make way for a $650 million structure by Peter Zumthor, the Ahmanson Foundation said Tuesday that it is suspending its decadeslong program of buying art for the museum over concerns about the effects of the radical redesign.

In a telephone interview William Ahmanson, president of the foundation, said he fears that under the Zumthor plan — a sweeping, one-level structure designed to flatten the traditional museum hierarchies that privilege particular centuries and cultures — many European artworks his family’s foundation donated will end up in storage.

“It’s my understanding that LACMA is changing from an encyclopedic museum with a robust permanent collection to a museum with some permanent collection works on view and more temporary exhibitions,” Ahmanson, who remains a board member there, said. “The concern is that the carefully curated collection we’ve amassed over decades may never see the light of day again.”

The foundation’s decision was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Starting in 1972, the Ahmanson Foundation has spent about $130 million to finance the museum’s acquisitions of about 130 artworks, including masterpieces like “The Magdalen With the Smoking Flame” by Georges de La Tour, others by Rembrandt, Watteau and Bernini, and a suite of 46 French oil sketches. The donations were not made with any contractual stipulations that the works remain on view. But historically, Ahmanson said, “nearly all” of the works except for the light-sensitive French sketches have been on display at any given time.

“I have been asking how much space is going to be dedicated to the permanent collection, of which European art is a large portion, and I haven’t been able to get that information,” Ahmanson said, noting that the foundation had decided against an acquisition the museum proposed in 2019 for this reason and “will not consider other requests for art from LACMA for now.”

He said the foundation received a letter from the museum’s director, Michael Govan, in 2006 promising “at least equal and probably much better space” for the art in the new building. But since then, amid debate over whether the museum is forfeiting exhibition space in its new design, assurances have not been as convincing, Ahmanson said.

Govan said by phone Tuesday that it’s impossible at this stage to provide any square footage figures for particular material, which will evolve with his curators’ choices. But, he said: “We could not be more enthusiastic to present the Ahmanson works at the core of our collections as they always have been. I believe that some of people’s favorite masterpieces from this group will be even more prominently displayed because of the more accessible arrangement of galleries in the new building.”

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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