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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?




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