Belin remembers the genuine look of delight on the old man's face and felt happy for him. He also knew that it was no accident that Hammer was talking about the generous treatment he had received at the hands of another museum. Hammer was about to arrive at the real purpose of the lunch.
Hammer paused and said he wanted to duplicate his experience with the National. It was time to sign a final agreement with the County Museum. The donations would include the 100 or so paintings, plus a huge collection of prints by the French satirist Honore Daumier and a rare portfolio of scientific drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci.
But the old, non-binding agreement with the County Museum had some faults, Hammer said. There were some new conditions he wanted attached to the deal. Hammer pulled out a copy of a 39-page proposal that had been prepared by his lawyers and then began to rattle off the main points.
First, Hammer told Belin, his collection could not be dispersed throughout the museum, to mingle with other artworks. He wanted an entire floor of his own, containing several galleries that would be called the Armand Hammer Collections.
In addition, the names of any other donors must be removed from the floor where his collection hung.
Third, the museum must sacrifice its authority to sell any work within the collection. The Armand Hammer collection would remain as it was presently constituted, forever.
Belin listened and thought to himself, This is going to be tough. He believed each of Hammer's demands either violated the museum's established policy or its ethical standards. But he sensed that now was not the time to start the hard bargaining. He asked questions, for clarification, and then said the museum would study the written proposal. He would get back. The two men shook hands cordially.
Outside the building, Belin knew he had been squeezed hard. He was not sure just how some of Hammer's demands could be met. Still, he thought daylight could be found. One more hard negotiation, he told himself, and the Hammer collection would be within the museum's grasp.
He was wrong.
THE ART SHORTAGE
THESE ARE PARADOXICAL times for art museums. On one hand, the museums have been the happy beneficiaries of a national mania. People now line up for shows of paintings by the old masters the way they used to line up for the jungle ride at Disneyland. Every institution has a building program, and in Los Angeles the County Museum of Art has been transformed from a monument of placidity in Hancock Park to a lively group of buildings.
But for many museums, some art experts believe, these developments have often masked a certain emptiness within. In some cases the new exhibition halls have come to resemble grand houses without much furniture. Old art of impressive quality has become scarce, and the ability of museums to amass quality collections has grown increasingly difficult.
The crisis has been produced by a classic exercise of supply and demand. Ever more museums and collectors are chasing ever-dwindling supplies of old art. In Europe, most countries now restrict the export of old art from their borders, and the flow has slowed to a trickle. In this country, virtually all of the great, private collections amassed during the last century have been claimed by one museum or another.
"In a real sense, the collecting game is over for old master paintings and the Impressionists," says a local museum director. "No one, ever again, is going to put together a new collection in these areas that will match the old collections. Or even come close. If you're running a museum, your only real alternative is to find a collector who already has the goods and separate him from his collection."
And so it is with the County Museum. As a serious institution, it has been in operation only since the 1960s. Just to compare, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was founded in 1870. In some ways, the County Museum's progress has been remarkable, given the late start and the lack of a large endowment. But many in the art world feel it has a way to go, and the Armand Hammer collection was going to help it get there.
MORE THAN ANY other trustee of the museum, Richard Sherwood knew Armand Hammer as elusive prey when it came to matters of art. A downtown attorney and a trustee for 22 years, Sherwood had been involved in the courtship of Hammer since its beginning. Actually, Sherwood has another image of the relationship between wealthy collectors and a pursuing museum. It is the image of a waltz, the point being to bring the dance to a graceful conclusion without undue bumping and stepping-on of toes. Sometimes the waltz goes well, sometimes not.