Ahmanson Foundation to End Gifts of Art to LACMA

Ahmanson Foundation to End Gifts of Art to LACMA

Dissatisfied with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's plan to replace its existing galleries with a single hall for temporary exhibitions, the Ahmanson Foundation is ending the gift program through which it has acquired artworks for the museum for five decades, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Over the years, the Beverly Hills-based foundation, which helped launch LACMA in 1965, has acquired and donated Italian, French, Dutch, Flemish, and Spanish art and sculptures valued at more than $130 million to the museum. Indeed, since its inception in 1972, the program has been the main contributor to the museum's admired European collection, with LACMA curators proposing specific purchases each year to the foundation, which would then execute the acquisition and donate the acquired piece to the museum — without the encumbering restrictions sometimes demanded by private collectors.

The foundation's dissatisfaction is with LACMA director Michael Govan's plans for a new campus — plans that call for the demolition of three large buildings that currently display the best of the museum's permanent collection — including the Ahmanson Building, where collections of Indian, Southeast Asian, and Modern art, as well as the European collection, have long been housed — and replacing them with a single building, the David Geffen Galleries, that will not have dedicated galleries for permanent collection installations. As a result, and despite a 2006 letter from Govan assuring the foundation of "at least equal and probably much better space," the works it has acquired over the years for permanent display will end up in storage for unknown periods of time. Demolition of the three buildings and a fourth housing an auditorium is scheduled to begin next month, with the new Peter Zumthor-designed building scheduled to be completed in 2024.

"We've been unable to get a commitment from Michael Govan about presenting the collection as it has been throughout the life of the museum," Ahmanson Foundation president William Ahmanson — whose late father, Robert Ahmanson, oversaw the LACMA gift program for more than three decades — told the Los Angeles Times. According to Ahmanson, the partnership between the foundation and the museum was further stressed in 2018 when Govan suggested changing the foundation's focus to buying Latin American art.

The foundation bought its last LACMA gift — a $2.5 million bronze sculpture of Saint John baptizing Christ by Alessandro Algardi — in 2017, the same year J. Patrice Marandel, who served as senior curator of European art at LACMA for nearly twenty-five years, retired. Museum curators made no request for a purchase in 2018, and in 2019 the foundation rebuffed a request to acquire a large Baroque canvas by Genoese painter Valerio Castello for $550,000 — a rejection that amounted to an expression of "no confidence" in the museum's new building and program plans.

"If we are to continue in this space," Ahmanson told the Times, "then we may need to find a beneficiary other than the Los Angeles County Museum of Art."

Govan framed the foundation's decision as merely a pause in the program during construction. "We are immensely grateful for the foundation's long-standing generosity to LACMA," he said in a statement, "and look forward to featuring the gifts from the Ahmanson Foundation as soon as we have completed our new galleries, just four years from now."

(Image credit: Atelier Peter Zumthor)

Christopher Knight. "After Giving $130 Million in Art to LACMA, the Ahmanson Foundation Says: No More." Los Angeles Times 02/25/2020.