Is Ahmanson Largesse Up for Grabs?
|Allesandro Algardi, Baptism of Christ, model 1646. LACMA|
Knight's L.A. Times article quotes an e-mail from Foundation president William Ahmanson: "If we are to continue in this space, then we may need to find a beneficiary other than the Los Angeles County Museum of Art."
The Ahmanson Foundation's interests go far beyond art. But it has spent a lot of money on local museum construction projects and on art for LACMA ($130 million worth over six decades). The Ahmanson website says it serves organizations "that are based in and serving Los Angeles County." That would seem to rule out the National Gallery of Art, a traditional Plan B of aggrieved L.A. art patrons. There is a very short list of local museums that collect the sort of European art the Ahmanson has favored and have ample permanent galleries to show them. The Getty, the Norton Simon, and Huntington are pretty much it.
I'd guess the Getty is too rich to be a likely candidate for Ahmanson's charity. But who knows? In 2011 the Ahmanson gave the Getty Trust $100,000 for promoting the first Pacific Standard Time.
The Ahmanson has given the Norton Simon two grants of a mere $5000 each for "general support." That's not much of a commitment by Ahmanson standards. (It's given the Petersen Automotive Museum 13 grants totalling $3.4 million.)
The Simon's blue-chip set of Old Masters is closely aligned with the Ahmanson tastes. But the NSM is not today an actively collecting institution. At LACMA it was Marandel and his predecessors who beat the bushes for worthy acquisitions and pitched them to Ahmanson trustees.
Of the three institutions, the Ahmanson has had by far the closest association with the Huntington. In the past decade the Ahmanson Foundation has made 40 gifts to the Huntington, totaling $7.8 million. These gifts were not for art but rather for building projects (the Chinese Garden, expansion of the Erburu Gallery, the new visitor center), exhibitions, and general support.
The Huntington is mainly known for British and American art, two schools not represented in the LACMA gifts. But it has a great van der Weyden and Houdin's Diana.
Would the Ahmanson be interesting in supporting American art? Arguably that would make more impact on local collections than European art, given the Getty's active buying. Knight says Govan floated the idea of Latin American art to William Ahmanson, and it didn't go well. But for what it's worth the Ahmanson Foundation was one of a group of patrons who kicked in to buy LACMA's great John Copley portrait.
|John Copley, Portrait of a Lady, 1771. LACMA|
William Ahmanson: "I like Michael Govan as a person, but we're having a major difference when it comes to this… Once that wrecking ball starts to hit the buildings, there's no turning back and we're stuck."