TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT December 1965

COMMENT

Comment

The following information was released by Dr. Richard F. Brown, Director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; on November 8, 1965:

RICHARD FARGO BROWN, DIRECTOR OF the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, through his attorney Louis C. Blau, today regretfully announced his resignation because irreconcilable policy and operational difficulties have developed between the professional staff and the private board of trustees. Brown has chosen to remain with the museum through January, 1966, in order to effect an orderly transition with whomever is to be his successor, and to complete matters in progress.

“Although any board of trustees has every right and duty to assume responsibility for policy,” according to Brown, “individual board members have forced decisions and taken unilateral action not consistent with good museum administration, which requires the full time efforts of trained specialists, and which cannot be handled by part-time laymen regardless of their devotion or attainments in non-related fields. Recently, this tendency has disrupted normal day-to-day professional operation and has mitigated what could and should be an idea program of acquisition, care, maintenance, exhibition and interpretation of art for the public good. The Director, as legally constituted head of a County governmental department, has been circumvented by individual trustees in dealing with County government. Under such circumstances, the Director is not permitted to operate the museum on the proper level of professional standards nor to maintain his personal integrity without conflicting with the individual board members concerned.”

“Along with a justifiably proud community,” said Brown, “I am proud as one of those who brought the new museum into being. But it was, and still is, my firm opinion that the museum could have been substantially greater in layout and design but for the unfortunate decisions in which professional recommendations were overruled in favor of a generous but misguided donor’s understandable refusal to sufficiently compromise his desire for a monument rather than build the finest community institution possible.”

“Because of my love for California, the people of the community, and for the new museum to which I have given my best without reserve, I seriously contemplated drawing a line of battle against the board of trustees in order to fight for those high professional principles which are a prerequisite to the creation of a truly great museum for this city. Although my counsel and I were convinced that I would be the victor, whether in a court of law or in the public forum, I came to the inescapable conclusion that the real victims of any such proceeding would be the museum, the entire Los Angeles community and the art world generally. I was also influenced by my sympathetic regard for the members of the board of trustees. Hopefully now they will have learned something from this unfortunate experience and will proceed to allow my successor, and the present staff who are unparalleled in excellence, to administer the institution according to those well known principles of museum management only through which it can achieve the fulfillment it deserves. Thus, the decision to resign and a satisfactory settlement with the trustees has been reached.”

Simultaneously, Brown announced his acceptance of the appointment as Director of the Kimbell Art Foundation of Fort Worth, Texas, to commence immediately upon the termination of his services with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

IN THE NOVEMBER, 1965 ISSUE of Artforum, Barbara Rose observed that:

In art, official taste has been institutionalized by trustees who have earned power in the cultural Establishment by virtue of economic or social power. Untrained in art history, ignorant of modern art, these men and women are often in a position to determine museum policy. Their taste in art is usually on a level with that of the man in the street; the only difference is that they are in a position to establish such taste as the official record.

In Dr. Brown’s remarkable resignation statement we have the first example of a museum official reacting openly and courageously against the circumstances described so accurately by Miss Rose. It is of the greatest importance, for Los Angeles and for the art world as a whole, that it be clear from the outset that Dr. Brown’s resignation came about as a result not of his shortcomings, whatever they may have been, but of his virtues; that a resignation was forced from Richard Brown not because of his inability but because of his singular refusal to permit the kind of trustees described by Miss Rose to “establish such taste as the official record.” If the smoke-screen of press-agentry that will surely follow Dr. Brown’s statement is successful, the entire controversy will be deflected to a discussion of the merits and demerits of Dr. Brown as an administrator. But that is not, nor has it ever been the point: the point has been, from the beginning, good taste versus bad taste; professional standards versus amateur standards; qualified museum personnel versus “trustees who have earned power in the cultural Establishment by virtue of economic or social power.”

When these conflicts are translated into specifics, the results affect the lives of all of us. When, for example, the professional Staff of the Museum offers Mies van der Rohe as the potential architect for the new Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the most powerful of the trustees offers Millard Sheets, the result may not be Millard Sheets but it is William Pereira, and the fountain-bedaubed spectacle on Wilshire Boulevard (the only building ever negatively criticized by Arts and Architecture magazine) becomes a fact of all our lives.

When trustees so misunderstand their function as to pressure the professional Museum staff into acquiring, by purchase, objects which they, as laymen, for one reason or another wish the Museum to own, without regard for the standards of the professional staff, we are all being done a damage.

Dr. Brown’s most implacable opponent on the Board happens to be the same trustee who, in 1960, had offered a considerable sum of money toward the building of the new Museum, provided only that the entire Museum be named after him. (Dr. Brown was finally able to convince the board that such money would be useless.) It is the same trustee who plunked for Millard Sheets as the architect of the new Museum, and the same trustee whose collection of Old Masters Dr. Brown had consistently refused to hang in the Museum on the grounds of dubious authenticity.

Behind this trustee, and this money, the rest of the board closed ranks. The picture that emerges, therefore, is not one of a group of high-minded elders of the community seeking, at all costs, to create the finest institution possible for the area, but of a group of self-seeking individuals making a crude spectacle of themselves in the attempt to slice the Museum pie according to their own untrained wishes. It is difficult to imagine what self-respecting museum official could, in good conscience, step into the compromised position Dr. Brown has abandoned.

Philip Leider