Ahmanson Plays Coy

Guido Reni, Bacchus and Ariadne, about 1619-20. LACMA, gift of the Ahmanson Foundation
This morning the Ahmanson Foundation issued a press release on the end of its 60-year program of buying art for LACMA. The timing is odd, for the split was covered extensively in the media last month (back when all the news wasn't about the pandemic). The press release says little new, but its language appears to leave open the possibility of a rapprochement with LACMA. The foundation says it is "suspending" its relation with LACMA "pending a clear understanding" of how its gifted artworks will be displayed in the Zumthor building. "If an understanding is not met, the suspension will become permanent…"

I'd read the press release as a bargaining tactic, intended to convince the public that the Ahmanson is the more reasonable party in this divorce. LACMA certainly has a long history of patrons placing egregious conditions on the display of their collections. But to my knowledge the Ahmanson Foundation has been a model patron. It artworks were chosen by LACMA curators, and everything was bought to be museum-worthy. It has not placed restrictions on how the art is shown. LACMA's Zumthor building will indeed be smaller that the structures it replaces, but it has room to display all the Ahmanson gifts.

Meanwhile, and not unrelated, here's something you don't see every day: a critic praising Zumthor-LACMA and Govan's plans for it. The New York Times' Holland Cotter ponders the post-COVID future of encyclopedic museums, citing Zumthor's "restorative" design for LACMA. "Also, the museum's proposal for rotation and distribution looks, at least in the telling, like a sound and generous one. Its implementation will require continual work and experimentation. But if that results in more people seeing more art, in more variety, over time, some of it in places they might not have expected, that can't be bad."

In Cotter's view Govan and Zumthor would throw off the colonial past in ways impossible for long-established East Coast museums. Central to this is not privileging Europe art—which, of course, happens to be the kind that the Ahmanson Foundation favors.

I'm more skeptical than Cotter is about LACMA satellites. But I think there has been so much bad blood over the Zumthor project that Govan's idea for a fluid organization of the permanent collection, organized around 3-year rotations, has not gotten a fair hearing. Ideas about proper display of art change, and it's pointless to say this currently fashionable one is good or bad. It all depends on how it's done. The thematic installations could be gimicky and dumb, leaving masterpieces in storage. Or they could offer brilliant, original rethinkings of art history every three years, all orchestrated so that 95 percent of the most admired and representative objects are on view 95 percent of the time. Until we see it in execution, we won't know. The Ahmanson leadership is reluctant to take that leap into the void. Can anyone convince them otherwise?


Anonymous said…
Govan isn't just wrecking the museum from a physical standpoint. He's also wrecking it from a financial, symbolic, logistical, operational standpoint too.

If the reduced size of the Govan-Zumthor building at least didn't come with huge financial complications, that would be one thing. If the Govan-Zumthor building at least were huge and could easily accommodate the collections of LACMA as displayed there previously (and not piss off the Ahmanson Foundation, etc), but still had huge financial problems, that would be another thing.

If the Govan-Zumthor building at least were aesthetically ideal, with things like very flexible walls, lots of galleries protected from harmful sunrays and a non-freeway-overpass vibe (hey, Olive St north of 4th----dtla delight!), but were still smaller than LACMA currently is, that would be another thing altogether.

What aspect of Govan-Zumthor isn't to culture what the Covid-19 Virus is to human health?

As for Cotter, he probably gets a cheap laugh at what a bunch of Hollywood-airhead philistines (hey, Michael Govan!) are doing to a major public institution in LA.
Anonymous said…
The language in the press release is actually quite tough and door-closing (i.e., stating that "[i]t’s a regretful end to a trusted partnership," noting the "public outcry" against the Zumthor project, and (again) name-checking Govan in a breach of past commitments). It's over, and the Ahmanson Foundation wants you to know (and understand who is to blame).
Anonymous said…
What’s more beguiling, at least in this comments section, is that why didn’t the first commenter didn’t just sign off as Joseph Giovaninni? It was obviously, with its hackneyed “Govan, Govan, Govan, Govan, I (love) hate that plague bacillus yersinia pestis philistine Govan” faux quasi elite Edwardian phraseology, written by Joesph Giovaninni.
Anonymous said…
No, I'm not the guy who did the very informative multi-part piece on LACMA for the LA Review of Books. I'm also not Greg Goldin or the person who started an effort several years ago to preserve or re-create William Pereira's buildings - possibly fountains and all - from 1965.

I'm not with the LA Conservancy or the Miracle Mile homeowner's association (or whatever they may be). However, I do fully sympathize with their opinions and, unlike you, also don't throw around ad hominem insults about someone's sexuality---yea, the people who admire Michael Govan tend to be cruddy.

I admit I think Govan is an idiot and philistine, so I do some insulting of my own. But that fool is destroying a major public cultural institution of Los Angeles. You better damn well believe I'm going to be disgusted by a person like him.

Come to think of it, maybe you and Govan are the ones who attend leather-and-whip clubs in West Hollywood.
Anonymous said…
The Ahmanson is "butthurt."

It thought that a bunch of second-tier paintings would buy it the kind of influence to determine the museum's direction forever. That's not how things work.

It still has not reckoned with the fact that David Geffen alone donated more money in one year than the Ahmanson has over several decades, $150 to a $130 million. If the Ahmanson wanted to secure its own legacy, it could have donated $150 million to the building fund.

Moreover, the Ahmanson remains ignorant of the fact that there are artworks in the possession of some board members and patrons that would be more valuable and significant to LACMA's future than all the second-tier works the Ahmanson has donated.

Govan is cultivating the relationships that are in the best interest of the museum's future. The Ahmanson relationship is no longer in the best interest of the museum.

... Patrons feelings get hurt all the time. Broad was once LACMA's most influential donor. Go look for him now. He packed up his things and left because Govan would not cave to his demands for curatorial control over BCAM. Given how disappointing the Piano buildings were, Govan probably also figured that Broad would be a hindrance to building something extraordinary. So Govan went looking for better patrons --- patrons with a higher taste level, patrons whose interests could be balanced in order to raise over $525 million. The Ahmanson got caught up in the wash because its position became more and more inflexible at the same time as the present value of all its donations became more and more inconsequential.
Anonymous said…
Damn, I'm glad you're on the side of Govan. With your sense of greed, arrogance, snobbishness and simple-mindedness, you're exactly what's wrong with so-called elitists.

Maybe I come off the same way too using words like "philistine" or "cretin." But the fancy circle of people that Govan-Zumthor probably spend most of their time in tend to believe they're just the opposite of such nouns. Even though anyone who destroys a cultural institution like LACMA is the epitome of a philistine or cretin.

By the way, David Geffen is homosexual. So if you're the same person who has been dissing Joseph Giovannini for his sexuality, what makes an outright known homosexual like Geffen okay in your book?

Anonymous said…
It’s all water under the bridge now, or in this case overpass, ladies and gentlemen. Los Angeles County just ordered a lockdown, pointing out directly that museums must close for at least a month. The funds for a grotesquely overpriced rebuild will dry up, county supervisors will redirect the funds elsewhere, new laws will be established for union workers on how to work in a COVID–19 environment (which will delay projects for at least a year) and all LACMA will show for it is four gutted buildings that really did not have that much wrong with them.

And the Save-LACMA mobs, plural, because there are two of them? Well, the one headed by Giovannini and Goldin must’ve spent $500,000 of other people’s’ money, which could’ve gone to the homeless crisis, only to show the country and the county how angry, bitter and spiteful they are while the other group, headed up by a bunch of idealistic nobodies, had a few sensible ideas that won’t go anywhere because the FBI will be too busy arresting LA’s politicians.

Who knew that a deadly virus could save a museum.

Vita brevis. Ars longa.

Anonymous said…
Michael Govan - the Darth Vadar of culture doing an armlock on LACMA - has subtly fired back:


> Responding to the announcement today, the museum
> said in a statement: “...There were no requirements
> on how or where they should be installed, giving
> the museum, from the first, the flexibility to
> showcase the art as the collection changes, and
> as scholarship shifts.”

> “As we have informed the Ahmanson Foundation, it
> is too early to give precise locations for works
> they have gifted when we open our new building,”
> Lacma says.

Govan continues to play the Three-Card Monte. He and Covid-19 need to get the hell out of LA.
Anonymous said…
> Well, the one headed by Giovannini and Goldin
> must’ve spent $500,000 of other people’s’ money,
> which could’ve gone to the homeless crisis,
> only to show the country and the county how
> angry, bitter and spiteful they are while the
> other group, headed up by a bunch of idealistic
> nobodies, had a few sensible ideas...

LOL, did I read that correctly?

You're trying to damn everyone with faint praise?

Next you're going to claim the anti-Govan-Zumthor crowd is similar to a young girl molested by her father because she asked for it.
Anonymous said…
To the poster above who claims the Ahmanson Foundation is "butt hurt"- you continue to denigrate the Ahmanson gifts as second rate. While the entire issue of Zumthor's design for LACMA is subjective opinion, whether for or against, the idea that the Ahmanson gifts are second rate is objectively false. Can you name a single authority on old master paintings- academics, curators, dealers, etc, that would describe the Georges de la Tour, the Jacques Louis David, the Michael Sweerts, the Frans Hals, the Rembrandt, the Claude Lorrain, the Guido Reni (both of them), the Titian, etc, as second rate? You can't. So stop your pomposity in denigrating art of which you obviously have little to no knowledge. It might not be to your personal preference, but that does not make any of it "second rate".
Anonymous said…
The Ahmansons are the most important patron for LACMA because of the consistency for which they fund the museums acquisitions. Is there another foundation with such a long and generous relationship? Govan's #1 priority should be to repair this break-up and give them what they want. What they bought for the institution is top quality anyway so it should be easy to meet their requests for permanent display. They didn't spend millions for it to be in storage due to the smaller size of the museum or this new temporary display model Govan wants.

I question Govan's focus on Latin American art. Just because LA is heavily Latino, doesn't mean Latinos want to see Latin American art. Everyone, no matter what country you come from, wants to see the same thing which are the Rembrandts and Picassos, the exception being antiquities from all over the world.
Anonymous said…
Govan can never be trusted again to be a decent steward of LACMA. His lack of integrity and transparency over the past few years is a deal-breaker to me.

Beyond that, he's incompetent in areas as basic as judging the quality of artworks. He now questions whether the word "masterpiece" is even appropriate or applicable to top-rate artworks.

Govan is like a version of Getty's former crummy president Barry Munitz. A guy who did reportedly graspy, greedy, unethical things when in charge of that institution.
Anonymous said…
To the poster who thinks the Ahmanson gifts are NOT second-rate, you obviously can't tell the difference between a great painting and a painting with a brand name.

For a true connoisseur, the difference in quality and desirability of, for example, the Getty David and Getty Lorrain and the Ahmanson David and Ahmanson Lorrain could not be more obvious.

In 2005, the Getty staged an exhibition of David's work. The Ahmanson David was not included in that show. What is even more disrespectful is that the catalogue stated that the location of the Ahmanson painting was unknown. If it was a great painting in private hands, the Getty would have tracked it down. (That's how the Getty built its collection --- by approaching private collectors and making an offer.)

... The Ahmanson Lorrain was acquired in 1986.
The Getty Lorrain (Abduction of Europa) was acquired in 2007.
If the Ahmanson Lorrain was an equal or even better picture, why did the Getty wait until 2007 to buy its first Lorrain painting? The Getty had the financial wherewithal to outbid the Ahmanson.

In 1986, the Director of the Getty Museum was John Walsh. He oversaw a very aggressive period of acquisition. The Getty Van Gogh (Irises) was acquired during his tenure (1983-2000). If he thought the Ahmanson Lorrain was a first-tier painting, the Getty would have bought the painting. But the guy who studied art history at Yale (BA) and Columbia (PhD) passed.

It's one thing for a museum with limited funds to pass; it's quite another for a museum with the acquisition fund of the Getty to pass. When the Getty passes, as it did with Salvator Mundi, it's a good sign that the painting in question is not a first-tier painting in condition and/or quality.
Anonymous said…
Since the fool managing LACMA doesn't believe the word "masterpiece" should even be applied to various artworks, including ones that are presumably out-and-out masterpieces - to quote a well-known government official several years ago (in front of a US Congressional hearing) - "what difference does it make?"

Anonymous said…

> It's one thing for a museum with limited funds to pass...

LACMA is now one of the most heavily indebted museums in the country. That's without even the reckless Zumthor project moving way past the first stage. Much less occurring in a world of Covid-19.
Anonymous said…
Calling Giovannini a “bitter old queen” is NOT a homophobic remark. That is what gays call someone who with age becomes jaded, suspicious, and overly critical and they don’t have to be “queens” at all.

Some of you are as provincial as it gets.
Anonymous said…
It's the fools here who don't know what a masterpiece is.

But hey, prove me wrong. Tell us what artworks you have bought recently. What is your taste level? How astute are you? I assume you live in LA. You've had chances --- Wood, Israel, Taylor, Kusaka, all LA-based artists whose value and reputation has risen sharply since 2011. How many of their works do you own?

If you weren't astute enough to buy a Jonas Wood painting when they were selling for $12,000 (e.g., the portrait at the Whitney Museum), what makes you think that you know anything about running a museum or buying a first-tier work of art? The Save-LACMA mob likes to pretend they know a lot about art, architecture, and the encyclopedic museum, but in reality they've got nothing to show for it.
Anonymous said…
> Calling Giovannini a “bitter old queen”
> is NOT a homophobic remark

LOL. I'm even more convinced that Michael Govan is an idiot considering the type of defenders he attracts.

Thanks for playing.
Anonymous said…
^^^Your comment betrays a lack of insight and taste. Thankfully, the future of art in Los Angeles is in the hands of Govan and NOT the Save-LACMA mob.

The charm of the Save-LACMA mob appears to have worn off as quickly as the charm of the original trustees (e.g., the Ahmanson) and the Pereira buildings they commissioned.

Here is ArtForum (John Coplans) on the subject in 1975:

"The L.A. County Museum of Art, a finned fantasy with boardroom chichi interiors, designed by William Pereira, and the Pasadena Art Museum, with its ribboned antiseptic caverns, designed by Thornton Ladd and John Kelsey, are as monumentally vacuous in spirit as they are in ideas. The general inhospitality of the buildings to art acted immeasurably to depress the local art audience. So much was promised, so much was planned for the future, so much money was given in good faith, and when the dreams were finally delivered, the sheer obtuseness of the architecture strangled hope at birth.

Ed Ruscha’s painting The L.A. County Museum on Fire might be taken as a symbol of the art community’s bitter disillusionment and frustration when faced with this fatuous building which betrayed the lack of insight and taste of the LACMA trustees who control so much of the future of art in Southern California."

John Coplans was editor-in-chief of ArtForum Magazine.

Here is a copy of the article:
Anonymous said…
Again, you're acting like one of those air-headed dilettantes (sometimes stereotyped as garden-variety, Beverly-Hills-type matrons) more concerned about the exterior, the facade, the dressing, the wrapping, the facelift, the selfie, the packaging, the superficial of something far more than that which lies far below the surface.

I'd even give you a bit of slack if LACMA at least were financially healthy, operationally healthy, technically healthy, symbolically healthy, Met-Louvre-National-Gallery-collection-type healthy. But it's not.
Anonymous said…
^^^ As if you know anything about the history and holdings of the Louvre, the National Gallery, or the Met. Please stop showing your ignorance.

After Napoleon was deposed, Denon (the founder and first Director of the Louvre) had to give back most of the stuff that he and Napoleon had plundered from other nations. By the way, it was Denon who invented the "encyclopedic" museum, predicated as it was on colonial plunder. So much for "symbolically healthy"!

... The Louvre isn't "operationally" or "technically" healthy either. When it rains, the roof leaks. Some artworks were damaged by rain in 2017. When the storms get really bad, there is even the possibility of flooding. Due to climate change, that does not bode well given the fact that the I.M. Pei addition under the glass pyramid is technically in the basement of the building. How smart was that???

As to the National Gallery, here is how the Washington Post described the situation there in 2018 as the museum embarked on a search for a new director:

"The gallery’s next leader faces significant challenges. The museum’s digital strategy is undeveloped and trails its peer institutions. Poor management across multiple departments has caused high turnover and low staff morale, resulting in missed deadlines and budgets that waste taxpayer dollars, according to staff. Long-standing problems of sexual harassment, retaliation and favoritism persist because senior executives and personnel officers ignore or cover up complaints, according to seven current and former employees, most of whom requested anonymity because of fear of reprisal."

How "healthy" is that? ... By the way, the former Director, the one who was responsible for the poor management, is Earl Powell. The name should ring a bell. He left LACMA to run the National Gallery. Dodged a bullet there.

As to the Met, you got to be joking. The former Director (Thomas Campbell) was forced out ostensibly for financial mismanagement. A $40 million deficit led to major staff layoffs/buyouts, a mandatory admission charge for out-of-state visitors, and the shelving of expansion plans. It was later revealed that the Board was also aware of some sexual impropriety. There was evidence of an affair with an underling and favoritism toward that underling in management decisions. That doesn't sound "healthy" at all.

As someone said above, this level of ignorance is as provincial as it gets.

Anonymous said…
And the dunderhead named Michael Govan is competing with all his might to take away the title of "Leading Incompetent Museum Director" from his counterparts at the Louvre, Metropolitan and National Gallery.

Govan is using Peter Zumthor as part of his tag team.

You can do it, dudes!
Anonymous said…
So the Save-LACMA mob IS Giovaninni:


Talking about, “Withholding information. Issuing false statements. Spinning facts. Working outside procurement protocols. Malfeasance. Arrogance. Disregard for the public good. Unacceptable architectural standards.” This duplicitous bastard has been conning us all along! He’s worse than the genetic Michael Govan could every try to be, and Govan would have to try very hard. Giovannini is like the COVID-19 of architecture critics.

Yes save LACMA - from the mad egotist Giovaninni’s Save-LACMA mob!!!
Anonymous said…
Now that you mention it, dunderhead Govan sounds like he's competing with the Getty's former head Barry Munitz for title of most "Greedy, Incompetent, Unethical, Non-Transparent Dilettante" in LA history.

Forget about museums in Paris, New York or Washington DC. LA's own local history has a lot of standout moments of failure and mediocrity.

Govan has his work cut out for him.
Anonymous said…
> http://savelacma.org/about

Thanks for posting that link. It's the first time I've seen it---LOL too.

These are the sections that made me laugh. That's in spite of the deadly duo of Govan and Zumthor being more disgusting and pathetic than humorous:

> Just drive up and park a truck bomb beneath the
> belly of the bridge and walk away and see the bodies
> and paintings fly.

> plus walls that look like they barely survived the measles.

> The new museum building resembles an Italian highway
> rest stop and makes you think of bathrooms.
Anonymous said…
^^^ "Disgusting and pathetic, than humorous"? ...Are you projecting?

Govan has an excellent reputation among his peers (i.e., other museum professionals and museum board members). His name came up as a candidate for the Met and National Gallery Director jobs. Thankfully, he stayed in Los Angeles.

As to Zumthor, the biggest prize in architecture was awarded again this year to an architectural group whose buildings share the same "tectonic" and "experiential" sensibility as Zumthor's buildings. That shows how timeless Zumthor's work is.

But hey, keep trolling and showing off your ignorance. It says a lot more about you than it does about anything else.
Anonymous said…
Considering the lousy directors you mentioned have been in charge of the Met and National Gallery, those museums dodged a bullet by not getting stuck with an even bigger dunderhead, Michael Govan. Regrettably, we in LA got the boobie prize by ending up with that fool.
Anonymous said…
https://www.larchmontbuzz.com/featured-stories-larchmont-village/ahmanson-foundation-announces-suspension-of-support-for-lacma/ -- March 23, 2020 article which includes another LACMA statement in response to the Ahmanson Foundation's decision.
Anonymous said…