THE LANNAN FOUNDATION MOVES QUARTERS TO L.A. : Annual $5 Million Expected to Be Dispensed to Nation's Contemporary-Art Organizations

October 25, 1986|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | Times Art Writer

Joining a grand parade of art institutions currently marching to Los Angeles or beefing up operations here is a little-known foundation that is expected to pump $5 million annually into the field of contemporary art. The Lannan Foundation, endowed this year with $100 million from the estate of financier and art collector J. Patrick Lannan, is required by law to spend 5% of its total assets each year.

The 26-year-old foundation, formerly based in New York and Florida, recently shifted the center of its operations to Los Angeles, where it will administer a varied array of art projects. Beginning in 1988, when nascent programs are in place, foundation spokespeople say the organization will keep its finger on the pulse of forward-looking art by buying the best of it--particularly from emerging and unknown artists--making it available through exhibitions and loans, and by orchestrating auxiliary programs. A public announcement of foundation plans is expected to be made at a breakfast meeting Tuesday at the City restaurant on La Brea Avenue.

Lannan's move to Los Angeles is but the latest event in a year when institutional support for modern and contemporary art finally established itself in Los Angeles. Against the backdrop of the J. Paul Getty Trust's unprecedented expenditure on historical art and scholarship (amounting to about $110 million a year) is a dramatic explosion of showcases for 20th-Century art.

Openings of the Museum of Contemporary Art's long-awaited edifice and the County Museum of Art's wing for modern and contemporary art are imminent. The Frederick R. Weisman Collection is shaping plans for its projected home at the Greystone Mansion, and new galleries are springing up from the mid-Wilshire district to Santa Monica.

"We decided to move here because so many aspects of the art scene were attractive to us. The museums, galleries and art services available make it a very desirable city, advantageous to our operation," said Bonnie Clearwater, the energetic, 29-year-old director of the Lannan Foundation, during a recent interview.

"But two things should be made very clear. One is that this is a national organization, based in Los Angeles." The foundation's move to Southern California does not indicate a preference for art that is made here, Clearwater said. The scope of the collection and other programs will continue to be national and even extend to Europe.

"The other point is that we also have chosen to stay in Florida, so that we can be a force in a developing art center," she said. The foundation will continue to operate its small museum in Lake Worth, Fla. Lannan established the museum in 1981 in a renovated Art Deco movie theater near his palatial home in Palm Beach.

Lannan was a director of International Telephone and Telegraph for 36 years. The son of an Irish casket maker and a friend of Joseph P. Kennedy, Lannan launched himself as an entrepreneur in Chicago and divided his time between New York and Florida. He began collecting art in the '50s and amassed 5,000 contemporary works before his death at 78 in 1983.

According to Clearwater, former director of the Rothko Foundation, the Lannan organization will concentrate its money and energy on the "unrecognized and underappreciated art of our time." Though it eventually will administer a varied array of projects, the foundation will distinguish itself by acting as a lending source--and by not building a palace.

The foundation will dispense its fortune from leased space in an industrial park between Los Angeles International Airport and Marina del Rey.

"We want to get a lot of bang for the buck," said J. Patrick Lannan Jr., the youngest son of J. Patrick Lannan and president of the foundation's board of directors.

The younger Lannan said he remembers his father as a man who "loved new things" and didn't mind shocking friends with purchases of adventurous artworks. He wouldn't have wanted his legacy to get bogged down in "bureaucratic overload" or to have "a big edifice with a lot of guards," Lannan said.

Clearwater and the board have been working for a year to develop goals and programs in keeping with the founder's wish to avoid "the safe and solid." Though some parts of the program are still in flux, four aspects are definite: acquisitions, exhibitions, grants and scholarship and criticism.

"The foundation will acquire art as a valid expression of the aesthetic beliefs and ideas of our time," Clearwater said, noting a preference for emerging or little-known artists--though not to the exclusion of contemporary masters. "We also will acquire works that emphasize the unique character of J. Patrick Lannan's original collection," which includes early works by Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland as well as more recently purchased paintings by David Salle, Julian Schnabel and Robert Longo.

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