I thought it was pretty funny to read earlier this week that The Los Angelese County Museum of Art, which is in the midst of a three part expansion designed by the inevitable Renzo Piano, was going to name the entryway of the newly expanded museum “the BP Grand Entrance”. This in gratitude for a $25 million contribution from the British oil company to LACMA’s rebuilding campaign.
It’s nothing new for museums to name wings and galleries and courtyards after donors, but when did they start selling off the doors? (For good measure the BP entrance will have solar panels on top — oil companies are big on demonstrating their eco-awareness these days.) I found myself wondering about the whole practice of donor recognition. Just what was the first institution to name a gallery for a benefactor with deep pockets? I don’t know if this is the answer, but as it happens yesterday I was reading Basilica by R.A. Scotti, a history of the building of St. Peter’s published last year. It includes this anecdote about how construction on the hugely expensive project slowed after the death of its first architect, Donato Bramante, in 1514:
Some progress was made on the south arm of the church. [Pope] Leo christened it the Capella del Re di Francia — “the Chapel of the King of France” — hoping that by giving the king’s name to a significant portion of the Basilica, Francis I would be induced to pay the construction costs.
For the record, Francis didn’t go for the bait. I think the lesson here is don’t chisel the name in stone until the check arrives. And then make sure it clears.