|Ed Ruscha, The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire, 1968, oil on canvas, 53 ½ x 133 ½ inches (collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC).|
I don’t think this particular fiasco should be blamed on Jeffery Dietch, MOCA’s controversial new director. Roberta Smith called it correctly when she wrote: “From the start, the Los Angeles art world and news media have heaped abuse on Mr. Deitch, who has certainly made some missteps. But his main mistake was to be the only person optimistic or naïve enough to take the job in the first place.” Stay tuned!
MOCA isn’t the only California museum in turmoil; the Fine Art Museum of San Francesco is also having problems, also due to an irresponsible board of trustees. You can read a good summary here.
For an object lesson on how a great museum can be destroyed, read “Pasadena's Collapse and the Simon Takeover: Diary of a Disaster,” John Coplan’s February 1975 article in Artforum now reproduced in PDF form here and republished here. It’s a well-written, extensively researched, very long and informative article by someone in the know.
|The beloved old Pasadena Art Museum, located at 46 N. Los Robles Avenue, 1960s (courtesy of the Archives, Pasadena Museum of History).|
Here are some highlights:
... Los Angeles is a highly urbanized but nonetheless diffused area. Unlike New York, common meeting grounds are virtually nonexistent. Consequently firsthand contacts across generations and professions are extremely rare. The museum’s openings were more than social events. They brought together a large array of people from all over Southern California who normally had little contact with one another, but a strong common interest. The openings engendered a rare intimacy, which broke down, if only for a single night, the sense of isolation that the L.A. art community felt.
... In spring of 1966, the plan and model for the new building was to be presented by the director and the president of the board of trustees at the museum’s annual general meeting. Hopps, exhausted, in the midst of a split with his wife, felt unable to face the membership and explain why the plan was a disaster. He had flown from New York for the meeting, but when he arrived at the L.A. International Airport, he wandered aimlessly, suitcase in hand. He felt himself about to have a nervous breakdown from the accumulated pressures and the difficulty of his relationship with Rowan. Phoning a psychiatrist friend, he had himself admitted to a hospital, and rested up for a couple of weeks. The new building was enthusiastically received at the meeting. Not long afterwards, Rowan told Hopps he doubted his capacity to handle the directorship, and fired the man who had virtually single-handedly lifted the little museum into international prominence.
... The history of the ambitions, and the decline and fall of the Pasadena Art Museum, reveals many of the problems that have retarded the development of effective museums in California. It is a history of compromises, conflicting goals, egomania, and private greed that has acted against the common good, and has ended finally in a violation of the public trust. This chronicle of pathology reflects more diffuse, hidden, and complex workings in larger institutions. But what has happened to the Pasadena is only an extreme instance of the outcome of predicaments that afflict museums from one end of the country to the other.And one other bit of California Museum news: The Getty Museum, as part of its Pacific Standard
Time survey of Los Angeles art, has organized a massive exhibition called “Overdrive," a survey of Los Angeles modern architecture from 1940 to 1990.
|Michael Light, Highways 5, 10, 60, and 101 Looking West, L.A. River and Downtown Beyond, 2004, archival pigment print, 40 x 50 inches (collection of and © Michael Light, courtesy of Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica).|
|George Braque, Trees at L'Estaque, 1908 – one of Leonard A. Lauder's gifts to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.|
And there's more good news from the Met: beginning July 1st, they will stay open seven days a week — the first time since 1971. Not to be outdone, the Museum of Modern Art, beginning May 1st, will also open every day. Staying open an extra day is comparable to increasing their capacity by more than 14%. Given how crowded theses museums have become, it’s a wonder it’s taken this long. Can we look forward to more late nights?
And speaking of MoMA, they bought the adjacent American Folk Art Museum building which the Folk Art Museum couldn’t afford. The building was designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien and got rave reviews when it opened just 12 years ago. MoMA intends to demolish the building to make room for yet another expansion.
|Interior of the American Folk Art Museum.|
The biggest museum news world-wide is the re-opening of the Rijksmuseum after a ten-year (not a typo) renovation costing almost half a billion dollars.
|The fireworks and smoke bombs go off to celebrated the re-opening of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands (photo: Getty Images).|
This isn’t really news, but I thought I’d stick it in anyway since I went there yesterday for the first time in years. The American Museum of Natural History, right off of Central Park West at 81st Street, has an excellent collection of Northwest Coast Native American art – some of the best, most dramatic art ever made – but it's displayed in shamefully poor, shockingly old-fashion, conditions.
|Hall of Northwest Coast Indians, first floor, American Museum of Natural History. It really is this dark!|