Commitment to Art

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How much longer should Los Angeles wait for LACMA to demonstrate world-class leadership and commitment for art?

I continue to be troubled by Measure A, with which LACMA attempts to manipulate us into believing that $100 million of the so-called "fire and earthquake safety bond" will be used to secure the safety of children visiting the museum. Listening to a debate on Measure A yesterday morning on KPCC, I was not surprised that among the various participants, there was no representative from LACMA. Last week's Art Talk criticizing the Museum's lack of straightforwardness about this measure generated a much higher number of email responses than any other program I've done recently. I encourage you to go to our website -, keyword Art Talk - to read excerpts of the angry responses from disillusioned Angelenos.

Meanwhile, in search of a story which can restore our collective belief that American museums are more about art than buildings, I came across an article I read last summer in the NY Times and put aside for the right time to bring to your attention. It seems that now is a good time. The Whitney Museum of American Art announced that it had received a once in a lifetime gift of 86 paintings, sculptures and prints valued at $200 million. Want to know the name of the generous benefactor? You are in for a surprise. Leonard Lauder, the charismatic chairman of Whitney's board, inspired and sweet talked 10 of the museum's trustees into donating 15 exceptionally important contemporary American artworks from their own collection. On top of that, the same trustees provided funds to acquire an additional 71 works. Want to get green with envy? Listen to this: 32 works by Jasper Johns; early works by Ellsworth Kelly; key works by Barnett Newman, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Ryman, and Andy Warhol; and a stunning 1954 Mark Rothko from the peak of his career.

What's even more impressive than the generosity of this donation is the Museum Trustees' sense of responsibility, inspiration, and dedication, which went into a 3-years long effort to find the most desirable examples of art in artist studios, galleries and auction houses. Mr. Lauder says: "As we were moving toward the end of the 90s, I found more and more museums focused on raising money, with less focus on art. There was a worship of new museum buildings, but little focus on what was in those buildings." I wonder if LACMA director and president Andrea Rich or any of the Museum Trustees would care to respond to this in a public forum?

And as long as we are citing examples of museums' innovative thinking and groundbreaking initiatives, how about the recent announcement of 3 museums - the Whitney in New York, the Tate Modern in London, and the Pompidou Centre in Paris - joining forces to buy a magnificent and very pricey new work by Bill Viola, the internationally celebrated Southern California video artist. Not only did these museums make smart use of their funds, more important, they ensured that this very large video installation will always be seen in one of the three museums. Alone, no museum would be able to exhibit this installation year round, because it requires a large gallery space, a museum commodity which is always at a premium. Though two of the participating museums are European, one can still see this as an envious example of American ingenuity, as it was orchestrated by Whitney chairman Leonard Lauder. How much longer should we wait for LACMA to demonstrate similar ingenuity, leadership, and commitment to art?

Responses to last week's program