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Artistic License

January 24, 1988

The disappointment of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art regarding the loss of the Armand Hammer collection is widely shared, but the com-munity can at least take pride in the museum's firmness in resisting what seemed unprofessionalif not unreasonable demands regarding those great paintings.

Time will measure Hammer's wisdom in going his own way, breaking his promise to the county museum and constructing his own edifice. His stated reasons for this decision are not persuasive. But that apparently is his business.

In recent months, as the agreement to give the Hammer collection to the county museum came unraveled, there were reports that the donor wanted to reinforce his control over the paintings and other works of art by the appointment of a special curator answerable to the Hammer Foundation, not to the museum director and the pro-fessional staff. The museum was right in refusing. The community must now close ranks behind the leaders of the county museum, who will face a costly and long process of adjusting their collections to take account of this new situation. In the17 years since Hammer first promised the gift,the museum has, correctly, based its acquisition strategy on the understanding that the Hammer collection would be part of the museum's treasure. There may be no way to compensate for lost pur-chase opportunities now that hyperinflation has seized the world's art auctions.

There will be satisfaction, nevertheless, that the collection will remain in Southern California. The facilities to house it will contribute to an expansion of museum gallery space, dramatized last year by the opening of the Anderson wing at the county museum, the new Museum of Contemporary Art on Bunker Hill, approval of plans for the J. Paul Getty Center in Brentwood, and Norton Simon's deci-sion to give his extraordinary collection to UCLA.

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