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Georges de La Tour’s The Magdalen with the Smoking Flame, circa 1635–1637, a from the Ahmanson Foundation. Photo: the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Concerns over LACMA Redesign Prompts Major Donor to Suspend Acquisition Program

The Ahmanson Foundation, the Beverly Hills–based charitable organization that helped launch the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in 1965, is ending the acquisition program through which it has gifted more than $130 million in art to the institution in the last five decades. The Los Angeles Times reports that the major donor of European Old Master paintings and sculptures decided to suspend the initiative because of growing concerns over the museum’s new $650 million, Peter Zumthor–designed building.

LACMA’s new construction will involve tearing down four structures—in addition to the Ahmanson building and two other buildings that display the museum’s encyclopedic collection, the institution’s theater will also be razed. Once finished, the new museum, which will be about 45,000 square feet smaller than the institution’s current home, will replace its permanent exhibition galleries with rooms designated for temporary exhibitions. The shrinking space available in the one-story structure, which will straddle Wilshire Boulevard, for permanent collection works has led foundation president William Ahmanson to worry about whether the many works donated by the organization will end up in storage.

“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,” Ahmanson told the Los Angeles Times. He said that the foundation received reassurances in the form of a letter from the LACMA director in 2006, shortly after Govan took over the helm of the museum. The document said that there would be “at least equal and probably much better space” for the artworks gifted by the foundation in a new building. “Our greatest concern is that the public has access to the art we’ve provided throughout LACMA’s history,” Ahmanson said.

In response to the foundation’s decision to cease giving to the museum, LACMA said: “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.”

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