Industrialist Armand Hammer said Monday he withdrew plans to give his prized art collection to the County Museum of Art because the museum wanted to display his paintings in galleries already named for other donors.
Hammer said the museum never told him of its intentions. But Daniel N. Belin, president of the museum's board of trustees, said museum officials twice told Hammer his collection would be displayed in galleries named for other donors. Belin said Hammer never objected until recently.
Most of the museum's galleries are named for donors, including at least eight in the Frances and Armand Hammer Wing, Belin said. The practice is common among museums that rely on private donations, he added.
Hammer, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Occidental Petroleum Corp., last Thursday surprised the art community by announcing plans to build his own $30-million, 79,000-square-foot museum adjacent to the company's Westwood headquarters. For the past 17 years, he has repeatedly announced his intention of giving his collection, now valued at $250 million, to the County Museum of Art.
"I couldn't conceive of my paintings on a wall that had been sold (to another donor), and I informed the museum of this," Hammer, 89, said in an interview in his 16th-floor office. "It was almost like selling the space twice, because I had given them $2 million to build the bridge (linking two wings of the museum) and I had donated my $250-million collection.
"I felt that would entitle me to have the space without having other people put their names above my paintings," he said.
Hammer's collection consists of about 60 Old Master and Impressionist paintings, a Leonardo da Vinci manuscript called the "Codex Hammer" and about 10,000 lithographs and other works by the French satirist Honore Daumier.
At last Thursday's press conference announcing the plans for the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center, Hammer said he pulled out of the agreement with the county museum because there would not be adequate space for his collection in the building.
But on Monday, Hammer said that he changed his mind because he had lost faith in the museum.
"I lost confidence in them," he said. "If this could happen while I was alive, what could happen when I was gone?"
In a draft agreement presented to the museum last July, Hammer asked museum officials to withdraw the names from the galleries, leaving only his name on the third floor of the wing, where his collection was to be displayed.
Belin said it would be impossible to take down the names because the museum has already pledged to name galleries after particular donors.
"That was unacceptable," Belin said, "because by then, we had already taken steps to commit those galleries, and how do you now take those names off?"
Hammer dismissed speculation that he pulled out of the agreement partly because the museum would not let him have his own curator who would report directly to him rather than to the museum director.
"I never intended to have a museum within a museum," he said. "I always intended . . . that he (the curator) would report to the museum director and the board of trustees."
Belin, however, said Hammer included a provision to have his own curator in the draft agreement he presented to the board of trustees last July.
"You can't have any real organization in the museum if you have a curator who reports to anybody else than the director," Belin said. "That would set a terrible example."
Even though he thinks the museum acted in bad faith, Hammer said he intends to continue to work with the county museum to bring high quality art to Los Angeles.
"I think these two institutions don't have to compete," he said, reiterating his remarks of Thursday. "They can work together for the benefit of both museums and for the benefit of both communities."