THE Armand Hammer Museum and Cultural Center was Armand Hammer's
final dream. The billionaire industrialist's last public appearances
were in celebration of the horizontally striped marble building that
now houses his $450-million art collection.
Formally unveiled Nov. 28, just two weeks before Hammer's death
on Dec. 10, the structure ensures that his lifelong avocation as a
collector - in which he amassed over 100 European masterpieces by
Rembrandt, Rubens, Renoir, and others in five decades of
globe-trotting - will be his most enduring legacy.
Like the career of Hammer himself, the new museum is steeped in
controversy. Born out of conflict when Hammer reneged on a promise
to give his collections to the county, the museum has risen on the
site of a former gas station behind his Occidental Petroleum
headquarters in Westwood.
Local press coverage has been scathing. The Los Angeles Times, for
instance, complained that the museum is "an almost pure embodiment
of the modern corporate use of art as a tool for public relations."
Officials for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) won't
talk about the new museum. And more than a few curators, historians,
dealers, and collectors have been crying "vanity!" But the public
and most of the growing arts community here seem to be embracing the
new cultural icon.
"It's absolutely fabulous that Dr. Hammer decided to make his
presence here in the bastion of movie theaters and (University of
California, Los Angeles) students," says Sylvia White, CEO of
Contemporary Artists' Services. Ms. White says she moved her
business two blocks away from the Hammer instead of to the more
artsy Santa Monica area. She expected the museum would attract a
steady flow of art lovers.
"The Hammer brings more competitive spirit to the arts community
while still complementing the collections of J. Paul Getty and
Norton Simon museums," says Robert Metzger, director of the
University Gallery at Bucknell University. Geographically, the
Hammer is situated between the Getty Museum in Malibu and Simon
Museum in Pasadena, adding a convenient stepping stone of culture to
LACMA at mid-town and the Museum of Contemporary Art downtown.
The unveiling here is threefold:
The 79,000-sq.-ft. building: It includes study centers, a
library, administrative offices, book and gift shops, a 250-seat
auditorium (as yet unfinished), and a restaurant (still to be
built). A landscaped and cloistered courtyard encompasses an
additional 7,800 square feet intended for use in entertainment and
key social gatherings.
A permanent collection, in three parts: more than 100 paintings
and works on paper featuring European and American artists from the
16th to 20th centuries; more than 10,000 paintings, sculptures, and
lithographs by 19th-century French realist and satirist Honore
Daumier; and the Leonardo da Vinci Codex, a scientific manuscript
with 360 drawings illustrating the artist's theories.
The inaugural exhibition: A traveling show of 170 works by Russian
avante-garde artist Kazimir Malevich, father of Suprematism and a
major force in modern art.
Press comment on the building and permanent collection have been
mixed. Only the Malevich exhibition has received nearly universal
"It's a triumphant exhibition to launch a new museum," says Robert
McDonald, a museum director in Santa Clara and a former art critic.
The rural-born Malevich (1878-1935) was regarded as the
theoretical godfather of the Russian avante garde. Empowered by the
post-revolutionary Bolsheviks to create a comparable revolution in
art, Malevich's brilliant polychromed abstractions made their
greatest impact just before the state adopted Socialist Realism as
its officially sanctioned style for art in 1934. …