LACMA and the Perenchio Question

Edgar Degas, At the Café-Concert: The Song of the Dog, 1875. A. Jerrold Perenchio collection
In 2014 TV executive Jerry Perenchio announced the biggest promised gift of art in LACMA's history, 47 Impressionist and modern works by Monet, Manet, Degas, Cézanne, Bonnard, Picasso, Léger, Magritte, and others.

It came, in Michael Govan's words, with "one big string attached." The gift was contingent on the completion of the Peter Zumthor building. The L.A. Times reported that "Perenchio said he was putting provisions in his will regarding the donation and the completion of the new building. He said a delay of one or two years wouldn't affect the gift."

In 2016 Perenchio pledged $25 million to the Zumthor capital campaign. He died the following year, at the age of 86.
LACMA Director Michael Govan and collector Jerry Perenchio. Getty Images photo, 2014
The exact terms of the Perenchio bequest have not been disclosed. Yet they may be crucial to understanding LACMA's thinking on the Zumthor project and what options it has. The Zumthor building was originally intended to offer a modest increase in gallery space over the leaking, seismically unstable, and aesthetically godawful buildings it would replace. Zumthor's latest design, as disclosed in the Environmental Impact Report, has about 10 percent less space overall than the existing buildings do. This prompted a scathing article by Christopher Knight in yesterday's L.A. Times and an outcry on social media. Asks Knight: "Is an Incredible Shrinking Museum worthy of taxpayer support?"

The irony is that Govan has performed the near-miracle of raising $560 million for the Zumthor building, including a $125 million pledge from the County and its taxpayers. Those numbers are unprecedented for L.A., being an order of magnitude more than any previous LACMA director has raised for anything. But only about $10 million of that has been raised in the past nine months. The downsize appears to reflect that reality.

Obvious question: Why not delay construction until more money can be raised, and build more square footage?

It's true that donors want to see a project before they get too many more gray hairs. They could pull out. The public is impatient too. But really, no big museum project ever opens on schedule. The Getty Center was a decade late and about 10 percent smaller than Richard Meier's most spacious design (and the Getty didn't have to worry about fundraising). So far the Zumthor project has hewed to schedule with remarkably little slippage. A few more years wouldn't be a deal-breaker…
Claude Monet, Waterlilies, 1905. A. Jerrold Perenchio collection

Unless it is. If Perenchio's estate planning says the museum must absolutely, positively, construct the Zumthor building by a specific and near deadline in order to receive the bequest, then the museum's urgency becomes understandable. The Perenchio bequest is reported to be worth $500 million, so there's that.

But if there's flexibility, then it makes sense to consider that Perenchio signed on to Zumthor's bigger, pre-2017 designs. Perenchio's intentions might better be honored by building the initially projected space rather than hewing to a deadline that's no longer personally relevant.

Of course, it's not just Perenchio's building, it's everyone's. And it's David Geffen's building, for his name will be on it (it's to be called the David Geffen Galleries), and he's the single largest donor at $150 million. Geffen is another missing piece of the puzzle. It is at least provocative that Geffen, who has a Frick-quality collection of post-war art, is supporting the Zumthor building in such a big way. Not to read too much into that: Naming LACMA buildings after Armand Hammer and Eli Broad didn't catch those collections. MOCA, of course, has had a Geffen Contemporary since 1996.
Jasper Johns, Target with Plaster Casts, 1955. David Geffen collection


Anonymous said…
The Govan-Zumthor Museum of Art is a debacle in the making. Forget about less square footage.

Many of the future galleries will have an entire side made up of floor-to-ceiling windows. Even less wall space, therefore, along with less floor space will render the display capabilities of the proposed slash-and-burn building even more limited. And frivolous too.

Govan is doing to LACMA a variation of what Barry Munitz did to the Getty several years ago.

For LACMA's sake, for LA's sake, Michael Govan (among others) should consider stepping away and retiring.
Zack said…
It will be very sad if these paintings don’t find their way into LACMA’s collection. I can’t understand the criticism of the new museum building that seems to be detailing the whole project. LACMA’s current buildings are a complete disgrace. They’re worse than an eye sore and are a disservice to the collections. The renderings of the new building are absolutely lovely. I hope it is built.