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Geffen's gift is a 'game changer' for LACMA plans: Historic $150-million donation helps shore up museum expansion

Jessica Gelt, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

LOS ANGELES -- Breathing fresh life into one of the city's most ambitious cultural projects and making history as the largest gift on record toward the construction of an American museum, David Geffen has pledged $150 million to a new building for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Geffen's pledge raises LACMA's fundraising total to $450 million of the $650 million needed to break ground on a modernist Peter Zumthor building, arguably the most anticipated new piece of architecture in L.A. since Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall opened in 2003.

The Zumthor building, to be named the David Geffen Galleries, has evolved from a black, amorphous design reminiscent of the nearby La Brea Tar Pits into a more muscular, sand-colored concrete structure that bridges Wilshire Boulevard. Beyond giving LACMA the kind of architectural presence that has become the norm for world-class art museums, the Zumthor project would further cement L.A.'s rising status as a cultural capital of international import.

"There is no great city without a great museum," Geffen said by phone from his Beverly Hills home, film giant Jack Warner's former estate. "Los Angeles is the city of the future, and with the involvement of those who support art and architecture here, the creation of this building is a very important event."

The Geffen gift -- the largest single cash gift from an individual in LACMA's history -- comes after more than three years of relentless fundraising spearheaded by museum Director Michael Govan.

"That this watershed gift is happening in Los Angeles is a testament, not just to LACMA, but to all of Los Angeles as a cultural center," Govan said. "This is a public-private partnership of extraordinary dimension."

When it is finished, the building will essentially be owned by the people of Los Angeles County. That LACMA is a public facility sets it apart from museums with patron-funded endowments, including the Getty and the Norton Simon.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas called the Geffen gift a "game changer" for the museum and "an inspiring example of how private philanthropists can partner with public institutions to expand architectural and artistic horizons for everyone."

Although philanthro-pist Eli Broad, filmmaker George Lucas and Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton have spent or pledged as much or more than Geffen, their museums were designed specifically to house their personal art collections. For a donation on par with Geffen's, one must look back to 1937, when industrialist Andrew Mellon contributed $10 million for the construction of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. That gift, adjusted for inflation, equals about $174 million today.

The new LACMA structure will replace three original William Pereira buildings, completed in 1965 and often criticized for being too inaccessible, as well as a 1986 addition by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates. Govan campaigned for the new construction, in part, by saying those buildings would soon need more than $300 million in upgrades and restoration if they were to remain standing.

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