Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes is visiting L.A. museums and tweeting all the way [TylerGreenDC]. Most illuminating is this exchange between Green and the Norton Simon Museum's tweetmaster [NortonSimon], reproduced in part here.
TylerGreenDC: "Glad the Getty cleaned @NortonSimon's Zurbaran still-life, but the glass on it kills blacks and shading brought alive by the cleaning."
TylerGreenDC: "In fact, someone should cure @NortonSimon of its glass fetish. Nothing kills Spanish paintings faster."
TylerGreenDC: "Amused that @NortonSimon wall text refers to details in a Steen. Can't see said details because of high-glare glass."
TylerGreenDC: "Relieved that glass-makers don't make sheets as big as Sam Francis's epic Basel Mural I. B/c if they did, @NortonSimon would surely..."
TylerGreenDC: "How glass-nuts is the @NortonSimon? They put glass over AN ALBERS! I have never, ever, never seen that before. #stoptheinsanity"
NortonSimon: "We acknowledge glass interferes w/ viewing art, but it was Norton Simon’s wishes & Board of Trustees continues the policy"
NortonSimon: "We are in the process of replacing glass with acrylic glazing that is anti-reflective, anti-static & has max UV protection"
TylerGreenDC: "The @NortonSimon should change the policy. Leave everything off as many ptgs as possible. UV doesn't keep other museums from same."
The bit about "Norton Simon’s wishes & Board of Trustees continues the policy" rings familiar. As a self-made entrepreneur, Simon made quick decisions and didn't care to be overruled by a board of directors. This applied to Hunt-Wesson Foods, Avis Car Rental, Canada Dry — and the little museum he acquired in Pasadena.
• Once Simon was in another museum and saw a docent lecturing on a "Rembrandt." It was the wrong painting — the Rembrandt had been moved. Ergo, there were no docent tours in the Simon museum for many years.
• “Old Masters shouldn’t be moved and banged up,” Simon said — so his museum rarely lent, then or now. (Lately the museum has loosened up a little, with exchange programs with the National Gallery and Frick.)
• In 1978, Richard Diebenkorn wanted to borrow a painting for a retrospective. Diebenkorn himself had given the painting to the Simon museum (actually, to its predecessor, the Pasadena Art Museum). Simon said no.
• Ed Ruscha wanted to borrow his Annie Poured from Maple Syrup for a few hours, to photograph it. No way, said Simon.
• Though Simon had little interest in showing contemporary art, he opposed the foundation of the Museum of Contemporary Art, insisting that his museum was a better showcase for new art. MOCA was the pet project of Marcia Weisman, who happened to be Simon's sister.
• Director Billy Wilder, once a NSM trustee, recalled,
"Cary Grant and I would drive to Pasadena for board meetings.… We always had a very good lunch with a nice group of people. Then there would be a meeting, but no discussion. Norton Simon ruled. If you disagreed with him, he made you feel like an ignoramus. He had to be in control, so every issue passed unanimously."