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LACMA director Govan: 1,000,001 reasons to stay

September 27, 2008 | 11:13 am

Govan_3Every time a prominent top-executive job opens at a major art museum, Michael Govan's name quickly goes into the pot, at least the one stirred by outside speculation. After all, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's director is experienced, personable and skilled at wooing donors. Plus, being good-looking never hurts.

So was Govan a candidate for the director's gig at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation before the job went this week to Richard Armstrong, director of Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Art?

Govan, who launched his museum-administration career at the Guggenheim from 1988 to 1994 under Thomas Krens before running the Dia Art Foundation, says he certainly didn't throw his own hat in the ring: "I never would do that. I have a better job....the best job in America. Obviously they asked my advice, since I know the institution so well. I gave my two cents as an interested citizen."

Another factor for the punters to consider when Govan's name next comes into play: best job in the world or not, he literally has a million reasons to stay at LACMA through at least February 2011. Besides his salary (stated as $469,000 for about a half-year's work in 2005-06, LACMA's latest tax return posted on GuideStar), Govan's deal calls for the museum to salt away $200,000 a year for him for five years. The catch is, he doesn't get to collect any of it unless he stays the whole five.

That's one way to keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen New York.

--Mike Boehm

Photo: Michael Govan in front of LACMA's new Broad Contemporary Art Museum. Photo Credit:  Mel Melcon /Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (9)

I went to LACMA yesterday and it was scary. It was practically empty. Many of the galleries are closed. I've seen BCAM once and have no plans to see it again until Eli Broad's best-of-the-'80s show is done. I hope whatever plans Mr. Govan has for the museum transpires soon, because for being the most encyclopedic museum west of New York, it has virtually nothing to offer. The bookstore is lame, the Ahmanson & Hammer buildings are still antiquated and fairly ugly, the La Brea Tar pits and surrounding buildings has the charm of a decrepit 1970s putt-putt golf course, and many of the visitors look like they just wandered in from a taping of "The Price is Right."

I guess if having the best job in the world is to oversee the ugliest museum in Los Angeles, than Mr. Govan surely has the job he wants.

Why leave CEO heaven indeed? The art world in generally is dramatically underfunded. I wonder how Govan's pay scale relates to a typical LACMA curator's.

For the sake of arts in this country, I do hope he does his job more effectively than his counterparts on Wall Street.

I don't know why people whine so much here. Govan has been excellent. Urban Light is great, the Latin American, Ancient American, and American galleries are fantastic, nothing like they used to be. Some of BCAM's art is great: Johns, Serra (neither owned by Eli), Rauschenberg, Ruscha, and Lichenstein. There are some bid duds, like Kelly and Hirst, my quess is they were put in to satisfy Eli's ego, almost everything on the second floor of BCAM is crap.

Govan wrestled BCAM from Eli and will build another structure alongside which will take the emphasis away from BCAM. Govan made peace with the Prices and the Japanese collection may just end up at LACMA. If not, that was a great treat to have seen it. The spider inside the Ahmanson was great and the modern galleries are also great. The new gallery of African art is wonderful and I can't wait to see the oceanic collection as well as the huge photography purchase the museum just made. The new colonial Latin American collection is to die for.

In the meantime, my favorite collection, European paintings, has made important purchases: Cortona, David, and Conegliano. Granted, this doesn't match up to the Getty's Rubens, Lorraine, and Gauguin acquisitions, but LACMA doesn't exactly have a $5 billion endowment either.

Now some of these things would have happened without Govan around, but many more would not. I can't think of a director that has improved a museum so much in such a short period of time. Yes, LACMA isn't the Getty or Norton Simon, but anybody who has been going to LACMA in the past can attest, it sure isn't the same LAMA of five years ago either.

Today's announced donation of $55 million in cash and art from the Resnicks toward the new building and Phase II renovation is great news. I love philanthropic gestures and wish there were more people like the Resnicks and the Broads in Los Angeles.

I don't disagree with Gerald on the quality of the collections in LACMA various buildings, but the overall experience of the buildings themselves, which I find musty, old, claustrophobic and completely uninviting. Being a contemporary-minded person, I just can't get over the overall negative viewing experience that LACMA offers.

It seems that LACMA will see better days starting in 2010. I hope Govan does it right, because we can't wait much longer. And hopefully they will put A LOT of thought into the restaurant and bookstore going in the LACMA West building. My vision is that those can and should be destinations themselves, regardless if one is even visiting the museum.

Being in New Yorker (and residing in that city), I've lamented the closure of the DIA in Chelsea, which under the leadership of Mr. Govan, provided one of the pristine contemporary art venues in the City. On my visits to LACMA, I too found the building that housed the art oddly disjointed and patchwork. The art collection itself while spotty and incomplete was excellent, however. But the sprawling nature of the Museum seemed somewhat appropriate for a city like Los Angeles. It seems to me that a person like Mr. Govan could be uniquely qualified to unify LACMA's various buildings AND collection into some meaningful whole.

LACMA has so much potential and a lot of very good artwork. It's also landed some excellent collections like the one given to them by the Lazarofs. Govan has done wonderful things for the museum, but I hope he's able to make the museum a more cohesive experience. I really question whether the architect, Renzo Piano will be able to do the job. I was very disappointed with the new Broad building.

I've been to most of the great museums in the world, from the Louvre to the New Museum, and for a city the size of LA, LACMA is one of the biggest disappointments. There are far nicer-looking regional museums in the US not even 1/10-th the size of LA. That is unacceptable.

And I also find BCAM to be a bore. The Chris Burden streetlight installation in brilliant and iconic (although not related to BCAM), but BCAM itself is nothing more than two bland beige buildings with a red exterior stairwell; like throwing an expensive tie on a cheap suit.

And from what's been reporter, the new exhibition pavilion will be more of the same. Govan needs to go maverick here and give this city something on par with the great contemporary structures going up in world-class cities. LA doesn't need more beige boxes. We need something that typifies the LA fantasy of progressive architecture, light, open-mindedness.

Really, Govan's antiquated, backwards aesthetic decisions are starting to make me think he's a double-agent from NY who is TRYING to make LA look bad.

BCAM was designed before Govan came to LA. Blame for that should go to Broad, he picked the architect and approved the designs. The best part of BCAM is the third floor, and in essence, that's exactly what the Resnick building is going to be: a bigger version of the third floor of BCAM. The Resnick building and remodeling of the May Co. building will allow for the remodeling of the east side of campus, which I completely agree is horrible.

I hate "signature buildings" for museums, they are stupid and overwhelm the art. I prefer the Neoclassical west building at the NGA than the horrible triangular stupidity of I.M. Pei's east gallery. The most beautiful gallery I have been in is the Louvre, but that's what? 300 years old? An adaptive re-use of a functional building. Disney Hall works, if only because an orchestra can be in an asymmetrical space. But can paintings and sculpture hang in an asymmetrical space? I haven't seen it yet. For me, it doesn't get any better than the third floor of BCAM or the second floor of the Getty: clean straight walls and natural light.

In these economic times, the dignity and civility of art is not only imperative, it is part and parcel to sustaining our culture as a world-class city. LACMA is one of the premier art museums in the world! Michael Govan is doing a fantastic job of honoring LACMA's history while ushering LACMA into the future. In my opinion, LACMA is the best thing in Los Angeles. LACMA is the very meaning of art, and it is available to everyone in this wonderful city of ours - celebrities, schoolchildren, tourists from around the world - everyone.


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