Ahmanson Foundation severs ties with LACMA over redevelopment

Ahmanson Amending Aid

Ahmanson Foundation severs ties with LACMA over redevelopment

The most recently-approved design for the redevelopment of LACMA contains fewer square feet for exhibition space than the four buildings it replaces. (Courtesy Atelier Peter Zumthor/The Boundary)

The banker and financier Howard F. Ahmanson has been synonymous with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) since the Ahmanson Foundation helped launch the museum’s move to a dedicated new home in 1965 (the institution spun off from the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art in 1961). His foundation, established in 1952, has since donated over $130 million worth of European Old Master works—from the likes of artists including Jacques-Louis David, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and Rembrandt van Rijn—and has shaped LACMA’s global identity as an encyclopedic institution that attracts over one million visitors annually.

After providing support to LACMA for over a half century, the Ahmanson Foundation announced that it will discontinue gifting art to the museum. Foundation president and LACMA trustee William H. Ahmanson expressed that his foundation has not been properly informed about how the artwork it has donated will be exhibited in the Peter Zumthor-designed redevelopment of the museum campus when it is scheduled to open in 2024. “I’m disappointed because the new building does nothing for future growth and it’s going to limit how we collect as well as those who may want to donate collections,” Ahmanson told The Art Newspaper.

After years of ambiguity on the subject, and given that the new building will have fewer square feet dedicated to gallery space than the four buildings it is replacing, it was discovered that more space will be dedicated to rotating exhibitions than the institution’s own permanent collection, much of which includes work donated to the museum by the Ahmanson Foundation. With a significant portion of the collection locked away in storage, in other words, the foundation reportedly saw little reason to continue donating artwork it feels should be proudly on display.

According to the Los Angeles Times, LACMA director Michael Govan has responded by expressing that a misunderstanding had taken place, and that the new building will devote exhibition space to artwork donated by the organization. “We are immensely grateful for the Foundation’s long-standing generosity to LACMA,” he stated, “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.”

While the Ahmanson Foundation‘s seminal relationship with the museum is coming to an end, other donors will be featured more prominently in the redevelopment, including film studio executive and philanthropist David Geffen, who pledged $150 million to the museum in 2017—the largest single cash gift from an individual in its history. LACMA has also compiled a series of videos of other supporters, including Dean of USC Architecture Milton Curry, British sculptor Thomas Houseago, and several Miracle Mile residents.

Demolition of the original LACMA buildings is currently underway, leaving precious little time for activist organizations such as Save LACMA to stymie the museum’s plans for redevelopment.