j a n u a r y 20, 2012

I have never worked at a museum! I do have a vast experience in collaborating with different Russian museums both as an exhibition project curator and a private collector lending works from my collection to museum expositions, but I have never been a museum staff worker. Yet, wherever I go I always try to visit one or more museums, if any. I am not prompted by some touristy attitude or just the desire of a person interested in art to see something new. My interest lies in the sphere of museum organization and functioning – I am interested in the principles underlying the exhibition policy pursued by a given institution. I am fascinated by the multitude of minor things, ranging from the principles and options of fixing artworks and the arrangement of nameplates on the walls to the organization of exhibition space itself and the ways of zoning it. What is more, I want to understand what makes museums the world over so different from our museums.

Late last year I visited the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art (LACMA). To be precise, I should point out that it is a whole museum complex, consisting of nine separate buildings on a huge well-planned and organized territory – a veritable paradise for art lovers. It is a great place to spend a whole day, together with your family and kids, which is exactly what many people do.

Until 1961 when LACMA opened, it formed part of the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art. A curious fact is that practically everything that makes up the museum complex today – buildings, the diverse collections and even the well-laid out gardens and flowerbeds – have been built, purchased and maintained with the money donated by benefactors and friends of the museum rather than with municipal budgetary allocations. Donations range from $100 to $50 million. On the wall there is a list of over a dozen of benefactors who have donated $30 million each to the museum. Every building of the museum complex is named for a company or person who funded its construction – Lynda and Stewart Resnick, British Petroleum, Walt Disney Co., Norton Simon and others.

The collection includes a great number of works and often entire private collections that have been gifted to the museum by their owners. Government policy of cutting the tax burden for people and organizations making donations to science and arts has a beneficial effect on the development of not only museums but art in general.

As anywhere else in America, there are no problems with parking your car: a huge multilevel parking lot is located underneath the museum complex. Three restaurants and a bar on LACMA grounds start working even before the museum booking offices open. Incidentally, as I spent the whole day at the museum I could observe businessmen coming to museum restaurants for lunch and business talks with partners. There are also three museum stores selling catalogues and souvenirs.

The day I visited LACMA several exhibitions were on, alongside the main theme displays of the museum collection. Needless to say, I was attracted by the 20th-century art collection, which naturally combines prewar European artworks with ultra modern, mostly American art of the postwar period. An excellent selection of works by European artists of the first half of the 20th century includes many Russian names, such as Chagall, Popova, Goncharova, Exter, Larionov, Soutine, Archipenko, Lipschitz, Jawlensky, Rodchenko and Kandinsky. The latter is especially well represented with a brilliant selection of paintings and graphic works. Although there are many quality works by leading Expressionist artists, masterpieces are few and far between. The numerous French artworks include pieces by Picasso, Sisley, Dufy, Matisse, Bonnart, Marquet, Derain, Léger, Modigliani, Rouault and Braque. Giacometti’s sculptures occupy an entire hall, and there is also an interesting Rothko of 1948. In a word, LACMA has a very representative and quality collection. The bulk of the museum collection of the first half of the 20th century is made of the collection of the American composer Henri Lazarof and his wife, who transferred 130 paintings worth a total of $100 million as a gift to the museum in 2007.

Works by Pollock, Warhol, Lichtenstein, Dubuffet and other longstanding classics of American art of the second half of the 20th century provide a natural transition to contemporary art. Wandering through the halls of contemporary artworks, I once again found then all fascinating and interesting, even though I am not a big fan of contemporary art. Every work is distinguished by either an original imaginative idea or innovative plastic finds – all of them executed professionally, with great mastery. By this alone they win public recognition and respect for their creators. Our artists and curators will find much to learn from.

Speaking about learning, LACMA offers numerous entertainment and education programs, enabling every visitor to find something to his/her liking. Children get special attention at all sorts of creativity studios and laboratories, special lectures and excursions. The aim of all of these undertakings is not so much to impart knowledge, as to encourage children to open up and to kindle in them the desire to do something on their own. Art is being used as an invitation to creativity rather than as a demonstration of achievements made by professional artists. From my personal experience in teaching I know that it is more important to awaken the desire to draw a teapot than to instruct how to draw the teapot. This is the theme for another installment, though.