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LACMA's Loss Is The Getty's Gain

Last week the Los Angeles museum world was rocked once more with news of generosity, ineptitude and quicksilver chance grabbing. OK, let's start with the generosity, shall we?

Among well-known private collectors, Hollywood producer Ray Stark and his wife Fran stood out for their passion for modern and contemporary sculpture. In their garden in Holmby Hills and on their ranch near Santa Barbara, one could see dozens of elegantly installed monumental sculptures by such heavyweights as Giacometti, Maillol, Miro, Henry Moore, Noguchi and then Calder, Manzu, Lichtenstein and Joel Shapiro. With the passing of both collectors---Mrs. Stark in 1992 and Mr. Stark in 2004---their collection of 28 sculptures, which is said to be valued at about $75 million, was expected to go to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where Ray Stark had been a trustee for a long time. And that's where the sad tale of the ineptitude begins.

As reported last Friday in both the Los Angeles and the New York Times, the Fran and Ray Stark Trust had initially offered this collection to LACMA, conditioned on the museum creating a sculpture garden to house it, and on doing so in an expedient fashion. So, how do you think the director and museum trustees responded to this offer? Being busy with a multi-million dollar fundraising campaign to remodel the existing museum structures and to build a new pavilion, the museum officials royally screwed up negotiations with the Stark Trust: LACMA was willing to accept the gift but---I kid you not---only if the donors would agree to fork out an additional $5 million to build the sculpture garden. You see, the folks at LACMA really have their priorities straight. Instead of dropping everything and doing whatever it took to secure the donation of this valuable collection, they bungled the unique opportunity to enrich the collection of this public museum with art valued at $75 million. Let's do some arithmetic. Dozens of trustees among themselves couldn't come up with the meager $5 million needed to house the Stark collection, but they have managed to raise more than $150 million for museum remodeling and the building of a new pavilion to display Eli Broad's private collection---a collection that hasn't even been promised to the museum. It's painfully obvious that museum trustees and the soon-departing director Andrea Rich have failed in their duties to protect the public interest. But what do you expect from an institution, which has been run for the last ten years not by an art professional with a knowledge and passion for art, but by a business executive who understands buildings but would not recognize art if it hits her over the head?

Fortunately, the story has a good ending. Into the void gallops a knight in shining armor to save the beautiful maiden-in this case the Stark collection abandoned by LACMA. The Getty Trust came with the surprise announcement of accepting the gift from the Fran and Ray Stark Trust---a rather bold step for the museum which, until now, with the exception of photography, has not collected 20th century art. Traditionally conservative, the Getty has recently undertaken another experiment: the unorthodox presentation of a Jackson Pollock painting---on loan from MOCA---in the midst of their Impressionist collection. So the score is: two feathers in the Getty cap-YEA! And one big egg on the face of LACMA---BOOO!

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