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Michael Govan's bright ideas

There's lots of heat but little friction as the new director lights a fire under LACMA.

May 13, 2007|Suzanne Muchnic | Times Staff Writer

Art in the hands of artists

LIVING artists will help to shape that view, says Govan, who has hosted public discussions with Koons, Irwin and video artist Diana Thater. The spirit of Baldessari's "Magritte" installation lives in the museum's boardroom and in Govan's office, floors of which are covered with some of the sky-like carpet used in the galleries. Koons and Burden have made personal appearances at board meetings, presenting their projects to the trustees.

"After Chris Burden talked, we had the rest of the meeting in the Magritte show," Govan says. "I want to make the board meetings engaging. These are volunteers from the community who are spending a good part of their lives, their time, their intelligence, their resources on this place, so I do want it to be an engaging process."

To those who fear that LACMA may be putting too much focus on contemporary art, Govan says: "All art is made by artists. The dynamic between the art and the artist is a fundamentally interesting territory of investigation. When I look at art history, I am always interested in the circumstances of the work being made. It's not just that it exists as a precious object. Art that's great is always new.

"Artists have an incredible talent to help you work through issues," he says. "In other times and other places, if you were going to build anything, if you were the pope or a politician or a private person, you would always engage artists in the process and the thinking. One of the things I'm trying to bring to this place is that involvement with artists. It's not a new idea. We are just revitalizing it."

Contemporary art will be on center stage in February when the Broad building opens with pieces from LACMA's holdings and the Broad Art Foundation's collection. That's "huge," Govan says, and he isn't talking about size.

"What happens is that the museum property gets consolidated, Ogden Drive disappears, parking goes underground and BCAM gives us something new and of very high quality. It clears the ground, primes the canvas by clarifying the site. Once that is functioning with that level of architecture, clarity and generosity of space for art, that sets the bar for what the museum campus should be overall. Once we have done that for contemporary art, our obligation is to do that for the whole history of art."

LACMA should not pattern itself after East Coast museums that base their worldview on European art history, he says. "We should be leaders. That's where having an edge on contemporary art is a big investment. I'd also like to privilege pre-Columbian art, art of the ancient Americas, as a frame for the past. These are natural ways to reframe art history from a Los Angeles viewpoint, and that is what we are obligated to do.

"The content of the museum should reflect the fact that our community is Wilshire Boulevard, the county of Los Angeles, the state of California, the Western United States. There is an outlook shared by the Western states. I don't mean red versus blue, but culturally coming from wide open space, coming from a relationship to Latin America and Asia. I think we have to broaden our horizons to reflect that. And, hopefully, generosity will also emerge."


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