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Hammer to Build Own Museum : Westwood Site Breaks Promise to Give Art to County

January 21, 1988|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | Times Art Writer

Industrialist Armand Hammer will build an independent museum in Westwood for his multimillion-dollar art collection, city officials said today. He is due to make the announcement this afternoon.

Such a move would break a 17-year-old promise by Hammer to give his collections of Old Master paintings and works by French satirist Honore Daumier to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Sources close to Hammer indicate that the chief of Occidental Petroleum Corp. will build a 100,000-square-foot museum atop the parking garage of the Kirkeby Building on Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood. The building already houses Occidental's headquarters.

Edward Larrabee Barnes, architect of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Dallas Fine Art Museum, is expected to be named as architect of the new museum.

Promise in 1971

Hammer first announced in 1971 his intention to bequeath about 60 paintings, then valued at about $10 million, to the County Museum of Art. "All the paintings that I own or that are held by my foundation will come to the museum upon my death," Hammer told The Times then.

He has repeated this intent in public pronouncements, private assurances and in his autobiography, "Hammer."

In 1980, Hammer and the museum drew up a formal agreement outlining his intent to bequeath his collections. According to a source who requested anonymity, the agreement began to break down last summer when Hammer requested changes that the museum considered nonnegotiable.

Separate Curator Wanted

Hammer wanted his collection to have its own curator who would report to the Hammer Foundation and not to the county museum director. He requested the return of paintings that he had previously given to the museum, asking to make them subject to a new agreement, and he wanted other donors' names to be removed from galleries in the Hammer wing, the source said.

When the museum said it could not meet these demands, Hammer decided to retract his offer of the gift, according to the source.

Although Hammer is rumored to be discontented with his recognition from the County Museum of Art, which now has many donors and has expanded considerably since his original promise was made, he has cited a lack of exhibition space as the reason for his departure.

Space Called Reason

A Jan. 8 letter to the museum, obtained by The Times, stated that insufficient space at the County Museum of Art "would not allow a coherent full display of my collections." However, he wrote that he would continue to support LACMA "at least at previous annual contribution levels of $25,000."

Hammer gathered his first collection in the 1920s in Russia. Since the 1960s he has often been in the news for paying record prices at auction for Old Master paintings and other art treasures.

In 1976 he bought Rembrandt's "Juno," considered the crown jewel of the collection, for $3.25 million. He paid $5.28 million in 1980 for Leonardo da Vinci's "Codex Leicester," a 36-page collection of notes and drawings. Both works were destined for the County Museum of Art.

When Hammer first displayed his collection at the Smithsonian Institution in 1970, the Washington Post strongly criticized the quality. Hammer subsequently retained John Walker, former chief curator of the National Gallery in Washington, to upgrade it and his efforts generally have met with critical approval.

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