Observing the obsessive, news drowning 24/7 cycle of mourning rituals for John Paul II, I started to wonder, "Did Congress, over the weekend, hastily pass yet another law, this time converting the whole country to Catholicism?" So, please, don't feel guilty if you missed the news of the crisis at LACMA, whose director, Andrea Rich, according to the L.A. Times, unexpectedly resigned over "power struggles with some members of the museum's board of trustees." Then, adopting the double-speak of George Orwell's 1984, Andrea Rich insists that there had not been "any particular crisis." Oh yeah? Check out in the Calendar section of today's L.A. Times. That will bring you up to speed on the ups, but mostly downs, of Andrea Rich's 10 year reign as director, president and CEO of LACMA.
Isn't it ironic that we know more about how the next Pontiff will be selected at the Vatican than we do about the struggle for ultimate power at LACMA, which remains shrouded in mystery? A few months ago, in a similar struggle over issues of museum leadership, Getty Museum director Deborah Gribbon lost her own battle with Getty Trust President Barry Munitz and had to resign. Everyone knows that at LACMA in recent years, its trustee, billionaire collector Eli Broad, has become its de facto czar, by promising them $60 million to build on their campus a new museum bearing his name and showcasing his large collection of contemporary art. Mr. Broad is known for his generosity toward various Los Angeles cultural and medical institutions, but he's also famous for demanding full control over his gifts. Rumor has it that he was furious to learn after the fact, that the museum had posted a job listing for a new position-the Deputy Director of Contemporary Art---while he himself had already been interviewing his own two candidates for the job. So there you have it: Andrea Rich reasonably expected that her new Deputy Director would be reporting to her, while Eli Broad obviously believed that this person, who will ultimately be in charge of his museum, would be reporting directly to him. If that's the real reason for her sudden resignation, one could sympathize with her. But only to a point. After all, it was her choice to accept Mr. Broad's offer to house his collection on the LACMA campus for a mere ten years without promising that he would one day donate his art to the museum. One can imagine that when the power struggle broke out, Mr. Broad needed only to remind the other museum trustees that, if they don't acquiesce to his ways, his collection might ultimately go to another museum. That's how, I believe, this tremendously powerful trustee ate Andrea Rich for lunch, chewing up every little morsel of her triple title as the museum's Director, President and CEO. In the surprising outcome of the well-documented leadership battle at the Guggenheim Museum, the equally powerful---and even more generous---billionaire collector Peter Lewis, president of the museum's board of trustees, was ousted by other trustees, who sided with the megalomaniacal museum director Thomas Krens.
The question is why do we know more about what was going on in the private museums than we do in LACMA, our own public institution? Are we ready to cede the control of our museums and thus our shared cultural patrimony to power-hungry billionaires or to administrators without the deep knowledge and love of art? The Vatican wouldn't go for a Pope who lacked the deep knowledge and love of the Church and neither should we in our search for the leaders of our cultural institutions.