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Chris Burden’s installation Urban Light (2008) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) (Quan Ha/Flickr)

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has lost one of its largest donors. The Ahmanson Foundation, a Los Angeles-based organization that has supported the LACMA for more than six decades, has discontinued its gift program for the museum, the Los Angeles Times reported today, February 26.

Established in 1952 by banker and financier Howard F. Ahmanson, the foundation was instrumental in the launch of LACMA in 1961 (Ahmanson made the lead donation of $2 million). Since then, it has donated more than $130 million worth of European Old Master paintings and sculptures to the museum, including masterpieces by Rembrandt, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Fra Bartolomeo, and Jacopo Bellini, and others.

Plans for LACMA’s overhaul, which have been subject to wide public criticism, include replacing four campus buildings with a single construction that covers a smaller footprint.

According to the LA Times‘s report, the reason for the split is the foundation’s objection to new policies implemented by LACMA’s director, Michael Govan. The director’s plans for the museum’s new building center around rotating exhibitions that would eliminate the permanent display of Old Master collections in dedicated galleries.

LACMA and the Howard F. Ahmanson have not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

Architect Peter Zumthor’s current concept for the LACMA redesign (courtesy Building LACMA)

“We’ve been unable to get a commitment from Michael Govan about presenting the collection as it has been throughout the life of the museum,” foundation president William Ahmanson (son of the foundation’s former president, Robert Ahmanson) told the LA Times’s Christopher Knight. Ahmanson claimed that Govan broke his promise to the foundation in 2006 to dedicate “at least equal and probably much better space” for the collection.

As part of the building renovation, the Ahmanson Building, which houses several collections of art, will be torn down.

However, Ahmanson denied any connection between that and the decision to end the foundation’s gift program. “Our greatest concern is that the public has access to the art we’ve provided throughout LACMA’s history,” he told Knight.

In a statement to the LA Times, Govan downplayed the situation, saying, “We are immensely grateful for the Foundation’s long-standing generosity to LACMA and look forward to featuring the gifts from the Ahmanson Foundation as soon as we have completed our new galleries, just four years from now.”

The demolition of the four existing buildings is set to begin next month. The museum’s new building, designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, is expected to be completed in 2024.

Correction 2/27/2020 12:07pm EST: An earlier version of this article misattributed the lead donation to Robert Ahmanson, Howard’s nephew.

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Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...

4 replies on “In Blow to LACMA, Major Donor Ends Decades-long Gift Program”

  1. Good, get the stuffy traditionalists who have no imagination and want to be permanently rooted in the past of museum design out of the donation ledger. Four buildings, multiple floors, and probably administrative/managerial offices mixed in with them that have nothing to do with art.
    The old buildings are ugly monumental constructions with temple like entrances that shut the public out, the new one is an open plan format and can even be appreciated from the road. It has no “front” or “back”, is far more accessible and the interior layout much more intriguing than the old didactical classical model of rigidly defined sections.

    Nobody likes change but that isn’t a reason to never accept it, far from it. If this ever gets built attendance numbers will tell the story, of course the rabid critics already have the prescience of knowing it will fail. They’ve been proven wrong many a time before.

  2. for the rabid critic a disclaimer: I’m a volunteer at LACMA, I don’t get paid or make money in any way or form, my only interest is education
    Mr Ahmanson still an active member of the board of trustees, they are not considering other request from LACMA as for now, not ending the gifts
    the Critic fail to mention that some of the Ahmanson gifts are in view at the Getty and the Huntington museums
    It never was a requirement from the Ahmanson that the works to be in permanent display as it is for the Lazarof collection that will on display soon at the third Floor of the Broad building

  3. Small correction: The lead donation of $2 million in 1961 was made by Howard Ahmanson, who died in 1968, not his nephew Robert.

    Also, the comment here made by “Frank” neglects to acknowledge his role as a freelance exhibition designer at LACMA, and thus not an independent, disinterested observer.

  4. I just saw architect Peter Zumthor’s rendition of the new building. My immediate reaction is that structure in the foreground looks like a 70’s design for an airport, especially with the vehicles driving through it. The design is asking for trouble should and when a powerful earthquake causes destruction.
    The tall building in the background evokes (at least in me) an insurance building.
    Shouldn’t we hope that the design ought to project a sense of majesty, endurance and stability?
    A re-design with easy smart access, attractiveness and STABILITY can be done. Look around the world for structures that are attractive and durable in looks and construction. You do not need “basic box” design to create a sturdy, 21st. century design.
    And keep out tall columns – they will fall first.
    -AD, retired structural engineer

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