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Coming and going

December 24, 2006|Diane Haithman | Times Staff Writer

2006 was a big year for the arts in greater Los Angeles.

The roster of new and redesigned "cultural palaces" grew -- the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, Malibu's Getty Villa, the Griffith Observatory.

The tussle over rightful ownership of art intensified: Five Gustav Klimt paintings looted by the Nazis were returned to descendants of their owner. And at the Getty, there were continuing charges that looted treasures were part of its collection of antiquities.

Murals appeared and disappeared, and so did heads of top arts institutions.

As the year draws to a close, some of these sagas are far from over. Here are updates and recaps of some of the big stories.

The Klimts

After an eight-year campaign, the five Klimt paintings, valued at $300 million, were returned by the Austrian government to 90-year-old Maria Altmann of Cheviot Hills and the other heirs of Adele Bloch-Bauer. It was thought to represent the most valuable Nazi-looted art restitution in history, and once it was completed, it seemed that everyone wanted the paintings. Austria negotiated to buy them back, but the price was too high. LACMA also made a failed bid, reportedly $150 million, to keep the paintings, which it exhibited in a glowing show from April 4 to June 30.

Cosmetics magnate Ronald S. Lauder bought the most valuable work, the "gold" portrait "Adele Bloch-Bauer I," on behalf of the New York museum he founded, the Neue Galerie, for a whopping $135 million. And in November, the remaining four paintings were sold at Christie's auction house to unnamed buyers for a combined $192.5 million, bringing the total tally to $327.5 million.

Altmann said she has no regrets that the paintings did not return to Austria and adds that on a visit to Vienna with her family, "somebody told me that when the news came over the radio in a coffeehouse, people started to applaud. So apparently they have a sense of justice, which makes me happy. I was afraid they would say: 'That old bitch!' "

The Getty

As the year began, the museum world was abuzz over allegations by Italy and Greece that major American museums were holding looted treasures and the Getty Museum's former antiquities curator, Marion True, was on trial in Rome, accused of knowingly buying looted artifacts. The trial continues to inch along, but everything else has been moving much faster.

The Getty returned four items to Greece and revised its acquisition policies but couldn't put together a compromise with Italian leaders seeking more than 40 items from the Getty collection. Finally, in November the Getty announced unilaterally that it would return 26 items -- and that it wasn't giving up about 20 others, including a 2,500-year-old "statue of a victorious youth" that Italy has ardently sought. This angered the Italians. Back in Greece, a prosecution source said True could be tried on looting-related charges in that country too.

Meanwhile, personnel changes roiled. In January, trustee Barbara Fleischman resigned amid controversy over antiquities she and her husband donated and sold to the museum in the 1990s. In February, Barry Munitz, president and chief of the umbrella Getty Trust, resigned amid an investigation of the trust's finances. Departures over the months since then include Getty board members Steven B. Sample, Ron Burkle and Lloyd Cotsen; board Chairman John Biggs; Getty Trust Vice President Bradley Wells; and Getty Research Institute Director Thomas Crow.

But the Getty Villa reopened after a $275-million redesign. And there were two high-profile arrivals: Michael Brand came aboard as director of the Getty Museum in January, replacing Deborah Gribbon. James N. Wood, a 65-year-old art historian and former president of the Art Institute of Chicago, arrived in November as president of the Getty Trust, replacing Deborah Marrow, who has returned to her prior position running the grant program.

A Getty factoid: Since its opening Jan. 28, the Getty Villa has had 274,282 visitors, as of Dec. 4.

Griffith Observatory

As of Dec. 15, 170,000 reservations had been made to visit the redesigned observatory, which reopened Nov. 3 after a $93-million makeover that had kept it dark for nearly five years. The breakdown: about 70% adults, 16% children under 12 and the rest seniors. But here's a tip for 2007 from Vicki Israel, superintendent of the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks for the Griffith area: Make a reservation for a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. On those days, "attendance has been much lower than anticipated and it's easier to see the planetarium show and appreciate the exhibition," she says.

The murals

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