In Brief

In Blow to LACMA, Major Donor Ends Decades-long Gift Program

The Ahmanson Foundation, a Los Angeles-based organization that supported the LACMA for more than six decades, has ceased gifts to the museum citing concerns over plans for its new building.

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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