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Still Building For The Future

November 16, 1986|BARBARA ISENBERG

The walls are bare in County Museum of Art director Earl A. (Rusty) Powell III's spacious office. Gone is the Kline that used to hang over the couch, gone an adjacent Miro. No more Picassos are stored in the recesses of a hollow wall.

But Powell is not complaining. With the opening of the new Robert O. Anderson Building, the director's office no longer need serve as a temporary storeroom. And until Powell himself moves offices to the new building he can look out the glass wall framing construction work on the coming Pavilion for Japanese Art.

Powell, who came to the museum from Washington's National Gallery of Art, talked about the new Anderson Building and the museum's full master plan (see box on Page 6):

The museum's 20th - Century collection today consists of more than 800 art objects. How has that collection grown from when you arrived in 1980?

I would estimate that almost half of the work on display in the inaugural installation has been acquired or promised since 1980. Building on such acquisitions as Kienholz's "Back Seat Dodge '38," we've tried to fill gaps and add major pieces that would represent major moments. For instance, the Braque "Still Life With Violin." We had no Cubist painting of that (1914 era) at all. And we went after it directionally.

We acquired at auction (in Amsterdam) a few weeks ago, on a real quick move, a Rietveld chair we thought would be absolutely sensational to show with our Mondrian masterpiece. That's in a way a fleshing out of collections, and we'll integrate aspects of 20th-Century design where it serves to illustrate a moment in art history. The response we had when we opened the Ahmanson addition in 1983, where we did integrate some decorative arts with paintings, was so positive, we're trying it to a degree here as well.

You've said many acquisitions and gifts came about as a result of people knowing that there would be so much new space to show them?

The magnet for both individual works of art and collections certainly has been the expansion program. Most were gifted, solicited or purchased, based on the fact we were going to have great new gallery space.

But you were saying that the Anderson Building has been a more general catalyst as well?

Yes. Certainly the Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies wouldn't exist today if Bob hadn't been interested in the Anderson construction and being a part of the museum's expansion. Our Fearing collection of pre-Colombian art came to the museum because we were going to have additional gallery space. Joe Price's Japanese collection probably wouldn't be here if we hadn't been of interest to him as an expanding institution.

Aside from money raised over the years for smaller, specific projects, isn't this the first capital campaign since $12 million was raised to open the museum in 1965?

Yes. The catalysts were the Arco grant of $3.62 million announced in June, 1979 (for the Anderson Building), and the Ahmanson Foundation grant of $4.5 million, announced in December, 1979, (for the Ahmanson addition in 1983.) The capital campaign that began in the fall of '80 has now raised more than $70 million, in phases, and we're going to go to $82 million. That would finish the program of construction as it's outlined under the master plan.

Have you stuck rigidly to the master plan?

Part of the beauty of having a master plan is that in a way, it's a menu. And it was done at a time when (the Japanese Pavilion) wasn't a gleam in anyone's eye. But having it both made my discussions with Joe Price possible and interested Joe in the museum, because it was clear from the master plan we could do a Shin'enkan and make it work. As opposed to my saying, "Well, now, that's a really interesting idea, let's look into it."

Unexpected funds speeded up a few things, didn't they?

There were things we knew we wanted to do, that the board had approved in the master plan, that were not funded. And were given lower priorities. The major priority was to the Anderson Building.

The J. Paul Getty Trust grant (of $3 million over three years) made possible the library and education center. And there was Dorothy Collins Brown's additional gift of $1 million for a new auditorium, and the Doris Stein Foundation came in with close to $1 million to support the construction costs of the Costume and Textiles Research and Design Center.

Another example is the Times Mirror Central Court. We could have built the Anderson Building without building the Central Court, but clearly it was to everyone's interest to see both be built together as one project. And we were fortunate that that was possible.

You were telling me how changes throughout the museum illustrate your domino theory of cultural growth.

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