Today in L.A. News

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A few bits of aftermath from the decision by Eli Broad not to donate his collection to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

LACMA Director Michael Govan spoke to the Los Angeles Times yesterday. You can’t blame him for putting the best face on things, but I find myself agreeing with a couple of points made today by blogger Tyler Green. First, it’s hard to claim that Broad “never changed his story with LACMA” if he did indeed explicitly state in a 2004 interview with the L.A Times that he would be leaving part of it to them.

And though I know that Govan was just musing out loud, it’s odd to hear a museum director say he’s not sure that it matters whether his museum owns the Broad collection outright or merely borrows, as it now will, from the Broad Foundation that will control it instead. As the decades go by and we get a better grasp of which works of contemporary art are keepers, I would much prefer to have LACMA making the decisions about what parts of the Broad collection are important enough to merit continuing display. The Broad Foundation will presumably be invested for years to come in the idea that all of Broad’s collection is of consequence.

This has been a problem with other legacy collections. For years the Hammer Museum was obliged to display virtually all of Armand Hammer’s bequest, some of it terrific, some of it very dubious. And as anybody can tell you after a trip to the Barnes Foundation, even that famous collection has its share of misjudged acquisitions — Jules Pascin anybody? — but the terms of Barnes bequest makes it impossible for the Foundation to take anything off the walls. Presumably Broad’s Foundation, which will exist, as it does now, largely to lend and circulate his collection, won’t be operating with rules as confining as the ones that restrict the Barnes. All the same, a museum, which doesn’t need to insist that everything a donor purchased was a tribute to his art historical foresight, is in a better position to make hard judgments.

Then the better news. LACMA has also scored a $10 million gift for contemporary art programs and acquisitions.

And this comes at the same time as the announcement that Zaha Hadid has been chosen to design the new Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Broad’s alma mater, Michigan State. This will be Hadid’ second American museum. The first, the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, is an absolute beauty. So why doesn’t she get more work in the U.S? The Broads deserve credit on this one.