The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has settled a messy legal dispute by reinstating senior curator Maurice Tuchman, who had filed suit last spring after being removed from his longtime position as head of LACMA's department of 20th-Century art.
The resolution, announced Thursday morning in a staff meeting, appears to be a resounding victory for the high-profile curator and, in effect, a repudiation of actions taken by the museum under former director Michael E. Shapiro, who left LACMA on Sept. 30 after less than a year on the job.
Tuchman, 56, came to Los Angeles in 1964 and served as head of the museum's 20th-Century art department until March 12, when Shapiro abruptly terminated his position, put him in charge of a newly created department of 20th-Century drawings and attempted to banish him to an office in a renovated kitchen far removed from other curatorial offices.
The museum has not disclosed details of the settlement, and all parties in the suit have agreed not to comment about the case. But Tuchman appears to have got what he wanted. He will be reinstated as head of LACMA's 20th-Century art department, and sources close to the museum say he will receive a cash award for damages.
"We fully anticipate that Maurice Tuchman will be restored to his former position momentarily. There is good will on both sides, and we look forward to doing that," Ronald B. Bratton, the museum's chief deputy director, said in a statement released by LACMA's press office.
"I am extremely gratified by the satisfactory resolution of this affair," Tuchman said in a telephone interview after the staff meeting. "I thank Ron Bratton and the board of trustees for their sensitive handling of a painful situation. The museum staff is now united as perhaps never before since we opened in 1965. In my view, the happy ending of this matter is an excellent metaphor for renewal and growth at the museum."
Tuchman filed suit against Shapiro and Museum Associates--LACMA's private support group--on March 16 in Los Angeles Superior Court. His 16-page complaint asked for reinstatement and payment of an unspecified amount in damages. Tuchman charged museum officials with waging a campaign to force his resignation; Shapiro and LACMA trustees contended that Tuchman's change in status was merely part of an effort to deploy the shrinking staff more effectively during a financial crisis.
In an economy move, the county had already eliminated senior curators from its list of job categories, reclassifying the museum's three senior curators--Tuchman, Pratapaditya Pal and Victor Carlson--and reducing their pay. The curators have been allowed to retain their senior-curator titles, however, and Museum Associates is making up the salary differential (about $800 a month for Tuchman) under an agreement that can be terminated at will.
When the suit was filed, the museum contended that Tuchman, a county civil service employee, should have taken his complaint to the Civil Service Commission and that the case should be dismissed by the court. But Superior Court Judge David Yaffe rejected that argument. Tuchman's attorney, Hillel Chodos, proceeded to prepare for a trial, taking depositions from Shapiro and leading LACMA trustees, but sources say that museum officials decided to seek an out-of-court settlement when Yaffe agreed to hear the case. Shapiro's resignation, apparently under pressure, paved the way to a settlement, sources say.
Curator Stephanie Barron, a 17-year veteran at the museum, was named acting head of the department upon Tuchman's transfer. Barron will relinquish that responsibility to Tuchman, but she will continue to serve as the museum's coordinator of curatorial affairs, a position that she accepted after Shapiro's resignation.
"I am delighted that Maurice will now be able to turn his energies to creative and productive issues," Barron said. "This has been a very difficult year for us, and it's good that it is almost resolved. We all look forward to his forthcoming exhibition."
"Secret Meanings of Realism," scheduled to open in early 1996, is a sequel to "The Spiritual in Art" and "Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art," two Tuchman-organized shows that explored little-known influences on modern and contemporary art.
Among other developments, the 20th-Century drawings department, which Tuchman had been asked to head, will become part of the museum prints and drawings department, LACMA press officer Jessica O'Dwyer said. The renovated kitchen that had been intended as Tuchman's office will be used by Carlson, who heads the prints and drawings department.
Meanwhile, Tuchman's career-long project, a \o7 catalogue raisonne \f7 of Chaim Soutine's work, is ready for distribution. Written in collaboration with Esti Dunow and Klaus Perls, the three-volume book was published by Perls Galleries and Guy Loudmer, head of a renowned Paris auction house. Another book, "Masquerade," documenting a Tuchman-organized LACMA fund-raising exhibition of masks made by artists, with a foreword by the late Joseph Campbell, has just been released by Chronicle Books in San Francisco.