The long history of major local art collections being sold off rather than given to local museums - or, worse yet, given away to East Coast museums, hit a new low today. The Walt Disney corporation just gave away a 525 piece African art collection valued between 20 and 50 million and not one local museum is getting even a single piece of it:
ELIZABETH OLSON - New York Times
WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 - In a move that will expand a strapped museum's resources, the Walt Disney Company donated a 525-piece collection of mainly West African traditional art on Thursday to the Smithsonian Institution, with the works to go to its National Museum of African Art.
Mr. Eisner said that the art, known as the Walt Disney-Tishman Collection, had helped inspire staff members who worked on the movie "The Lion King" and that some objects had been lent intermittently over the past two decades.
Disney had originally planned to display the collection in one of its own sites but never followed through, he said, adding, "We just didn't put our arms around it."
As calls for loans and gifts from the collection persisted - including an appeal from France's president, Jacques Chirac, who secured a loan for the Louvre, and from the Smithsonian's secretary, Lawrence M. Small - Mr. Eisner said he felt pressed to make a decision about it.
So we have a collection so important that the president of France was begging for it... So why is no LA museum even mentioned as being a contender for the gift? Why would a publicly owned, locally based corporation snub it's own home and give the art to a city with far greater art collections than our city will ever have? What possibly could have made Eisner to snub Los Angeles and donate the art to a city in which Disney has virtually no offices or employees, which is usually the determining factor in such corporate gifts?
And - if Disney has owned this collection for twenty years - why did Eisner feel so pressured to remove this collection from Los Angeles and give it to Washington D.C. just weeks before he leaves the company forever? Why this sudden urgency?
So he (Eisner) decided about six weeks ago, he said, to give the collection to the Smithsonian because it was a national institution with a building - the National Museum of African Art - "that could display it right.
So... he liked their building? That is the cause of the 'sense of urgency'? Doesn't he know about the massive LACMA addition that Eli Broad is building? Can it really be that a building is the real reason for Eisner's last minute betrayal?
His wife, Jane Breckenridge Eisner, who accompanied him for the announcement, is a member of the Smithsonian's board of trustees.
OK. Now we get it. As one of his last acts as head of a publicly owned, locally based corporation - Michael Eisner gives away a major art collection to an East Coast museum his wife... just happens... to be on the board of.
LA Times now covers the great art theft:
Christopher Reynolds and Johanna Neuman - LA Times
In a move to close his leadership of Walt Disney Corp. with a philanthropic flourish, Chief Executive Michael Eisner announced Thursday that the company would donate its African art collection, hailed by experts as one of the most important such collections in private hands in the U.S., to the Smithsonian Institution.
In making the gift — 525 objects, spanning five centuries and valued at $20 million to $45 million — Disney turned away suitors including the French government and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and solved a quandary that Eisner said had vexed him for 20 years.
Officials at LACMA acknowledged that they tried to get the gift. "We had been talking to them over the last five years about it," said Nancy Thomas, deputy director of LACMA. "We were really hoping that it would stay in Los Angeles, and we would have been very interested in having it come to LACMA. It's a collection that's been on our radar for a long time."
Though LACMA "actively pursued this and took it as far as we could," Thomas said, the museum's last meeting with Disney officials was more than a year ago. Noting that the Louvre currently has several items on loan from the collection, she said French officials had been hoping to land a donation as well.... It's a big loss for Los Angeles," said Doran H. Ross, a veteran Africanist and director of the Fowler Museum of Cultural History at UCLA from 1996 to 2001. "It's probably the single most important private collection that's been out there….
Now as for why Eisner personally decided to enrich already rich Washington at the expense of art poor Los Angeles by donating a collection paid for by Disney stockholders, Eisner said it was because it is a national museum - and that it charged no admission. As for that other, very minor, reason... the Times tactfully, barely mentioned it:
In choosing a destination for the collection, Eisner had a lot of options and at least one built-in connection. His wife, Jane, has served on the Smithsonian National Board since 1998 and is currently vice chairwoman.
Currently... vice-chair? Gee - wonder why she got that promotion.
So we have Eisner giving away Disney Corporation owned art to an out of area museum, an act that just happens to enhance his wife's social position and Barry Munitz spending Getty Trust money all over the world that just happens to also enhance his social life... and then there's the scandal of a major local art foundation being looted by its 'trustees' that no newspaper will report about now that New Times has been closed.
Welcome to LA!