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L.A. art community remembers Michael Crichton as collector, LACMA board member

November 5, 2008 |  3:33 pm

Michael_crichton Most people best know Michael Crichton, who died of cancer Tuesday at age 66, as the bestselling author of "Jurassic Park," "The Andromeda Strain" and other science fiction -- along with creating the long-lived NBC series "ER"

But the Los Angeles art community also knew Crichton as a contemporary-art collector, close friend of artist Jasper Johns and board member of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art since 2006. Crichton is also the author of the 1977 book "Jasper Johns" and organized the artist's 1977 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Three works from Crichton's collection are on loan to LACMA and on view at the Broad Contemporary Art Museum. The three works on canvas are Johns'  "Two Flags" (1973); Ed Ruscha's "Voltage" (1964) and Robert Rauschenberg's "Trapeze" (1964). The artworks are on loan through November, LACMA director Michael Govan said today.

In an interview this morning, Margo Leavin, owner of L.A.'s Margo Leavin Gallery, recalled a friendship with Crichton that began in the late 1960s, before she opened her gallery in 1970 ...

... and was running her fledgling art dealership out of her home. At that time, she said, Crichton was a relative newcomer to the world of art.

"He came over to my home, and he came every day -- to read and ask questions," Leavin said. "He had an insatiable desire to learn and went on to become a really great collector." She admitted that while at that time Crichton had a lot to learn about art, she had a lot to learn about Crichton. "I had to go out and buy 'The Andromeda Strain,'" she said. "I'm in tears. It's just an awful loss."

LACMA's Govan said that Crichton was one of the first people he hoped to target as a possible board member when Govan took over the directorship of the county museum in 2006, leaving his post as president and director of Dia Art Foundation.

"I met him at Dia in my former incarnation. I had the pleasure of taking him around that museum and learned quite quickly that he had an incredible eye, an incredible sensitivity," Govan said of Crichton. Even before Crichton's Dia visit, Govan said, he had used Crichton's book on Jasper Johns for research while organizing a retrospective exhibition on 20th century light artist Dan Flavin, which premiered at Washington's National Gallery of Art in 2004.

"It's a great loss; I have to say it's very, very sad," Govan said. "He was a very private person and a very creative person. He really was just getting started to be involved in the museum; he had a tremendous interest and curiosity."

The Crichton-owned works were on temporary loan to LACMA, Govan said, and Crichton had told the museum to keep them "as long as we needed them. In fact, we were just going to talk to him about whether we'd give them back -- they looked so nice."

-- Diane Haithman

  Photo: Michael Crichton. Credit: Jonathan Exby