LACMA Goes Lacking

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Before I get back to my long post on Murakami, there’s this news about the decision by Eli Broad not to leave his vast collection of modern and contemporary art to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. LACMA was the place most likely to get it, or most of it, if he left it to any museum. He’ll be handing it over instead to the Broad Art Foundation, which already holds 1500 of his 1900 or so works and which since 1984 has been lending from its holdings to other museums.

This is another way of saying that LACMA got screwed. It’s a museum that has serious gaps in its collections, even after the gift last month of 130 works from the collectors Janice and Henri Lazarof, and it’s already been left at the altar twice before. Armand Hammer and Norton Simon both played with its affections before deciding to build their own museums. With that unhappy romantic history behind it, LACMA went to extraordinary lengths for Broad in the way of donor servicing. Not only did it organize a traveling show from his collection in 2001 — something some museums won’t do unless they have a clear pledge that the works on display will be gifted to them — it also agreed to include the Eli Broad Contemporary Arts Museum as part its Renzo Piano-redesigned campus, a $56 million building that opens next month to show work from his collection and others.

That Broad Contemporary might have solved the problem for Broad of how to leave his collection to LACMA and still get his name, Getty-style, on his own museum. But by depositing his collection with the Foundation, he ensures that his Foundation, not the museum, will control how, when and where it goes out on tour to other institutions, continually spreading his fame here and there, while encouraging would be borrower museums to do what they will to enhance his posthumous glory — for instance, by offering Broad-glorifying exhibitions. The Met’s recent show of paintings from its Dutch collection organized by donors, not artists or genres, is an example of how a benefactor’s apple can be polished for all eternity.

Billionaires also don’t relish the idea of their collections disappearing into the storerooms of museums that don’t have room to display more than a fraction of what they get in a large gift. This was one of the main considerations for Donald Fisher, the Gap founder who decided last year not to give his collection to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which he serves as a trustee, but instead to build his own museum in San Francisco.

And speaking of SFMOMA, they must be awaiting more anxiously than ever the decision of Hunk and Moo Anderson about what they will do with their own very significant collection.

There’s good further discussion of this story on Ed Winkleman’s blog, via.