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L.A. museum director lived 10% of the time in N.Y.

August 18, 2009 | 12:51 pm

Ten percent I do not envy the directors of major art museums the amount of business-related travel their jobs require. No, it's not exactly combat duty. But frequent, far-flung travel is necessary to cultivate relationships, seal deals, keep up with the field and such. Regular travel comes with the job.

Still, I was taken aback by the report by my colleagues Alan Zarembo and Mike Boehm in today's paper, which lays out details of the hefty compensation package provided to Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art since early 2006. In the course of reporting that Govan is on track to collect $6 million over the duration of his 5-year contract, putting his pay near the top among American art museum directors, Zarembo and Boehm take note of an unusual, travel-related perk.

Govan was paid "$1,000 a night to stay in his own New York condominium, while there on museum business.” The deal, according to the written agreement and details subsequently provided by LACMA, “paid Govan $103,000 over three years.”

Being paid to live in your own house is certainly an eyebrow-raiser, but that's not the issue I'm getting at here. It's about time, not money. Do the math: The payment means that out of 1,095 days total, the director was paid for working 103 days in New York. On a six- or even seven-day work week, that's 10% of his time.

The 10% figure is probably a low estimate too. Govan, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by The Times, is allowed a maximum of $36,000 annually for being at his home in New York. Beyond those 36 nights in any given year, he's just not paid extra.

Govan was hired to make the museum distinctive. The plan, still unfolding, is to make LACMA the only encyclopedic art museum in the nation with a premier contemporary art program. Being on the road a lot to keep up with Berlin, London, Mexico City, Beijing and the rest is to be expected. But is it really reasonable for the head of a Los Angeles museum to live more than a month each year in Manhattan?

New York is an important art city, although not nearly as important as it was before the dramatic internationalization of the art and museum worlds over the last 30 years. Govan's condo is leased now, so the payments have ended. But it's not about the money; the time invested in another city is what seems inexplicably steep.

-- Christopher Knight

Related coverage:

Behind Michael Govan's almost $1-million LACMA salary

Discuss: Do you think $1 million is a fair salary for a museum director?

Comments () | Archives (8)

He should be paid well, but the sum of the perks starts to get a little excessive. Perhaps the rational of his raising a lot of money makes it fair, but he's not giving back by raising the entrance fee to the public.

Bonami was famous for not visiting local galleries or doing studio visits in Chicago during his tenure...and in Puerto Rico, Venezuelan curators working for private collections, select who gets into the Biennials...remote control curatots are a trend...and a colonizing force in many ways

So 34 nights a year in NYC. Let's do the math:

5 meeting with NYC museum directors regarding traveling exhibitions/loans
5 meeting with dealers/collectors regarding acquisitions
5 Armory Show (Wed-Sun)
5 (at LEAST) visiting donors/prospects, many of whom live/work outside NYC proper (and therefore require day-trips where he's only sleeping in NYC)
3 meeting with corporate sponsors/potential sponsors/foundations
3 professional obligations/speaking/conferences

That's 26 days a year off the top of my head, and I'm sure I'm missing some other reasons for him to be there. I bet he also spent a lot more time in NYC his first year than he does now, since a cross-country move typically requires a lot of time and energy. Give the guy a break, I say.

holy crap. how do i get in on this ? I'm happy to undercut Govan: I'd live in my apartment for the mere sum of $800 a day - that's 20% off! - a deal for these recession-minded times.

If LA wants a world class museum at LACMA, then LA must compete with world class directorships. Simple as that. If you have a problem, Govan will go where the world class work is being done. Govan is a class act and an effective fundraiser.

to D.:

What kind of math education have you ever gotten? Your meeting count is non-sense because you assume each meeting takes one whole day! How many meetings do you think an executive can go IF meetings is only what he/she does?

For the 26 meetings you listed out, it would take me the most a full week.

Isn't charging for staying in her own home the same problem Sarah Palin had when she was away from the capital of Alaska?

This guy is not another Barry Munitz, who spent away cash and did nothing for the Getty museum. We took a high profile director from NYC who turned Dia from nothing into something. If we want to be the best, we have to hire the best. And his time spent in NYC should only be in question if his performance is lacking. I don't care how long he spends in NYC as long as he has the talent to raise $200 million dollars like no other before him in LA. And THAT is worth the $1 million he makes a year.


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