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Links to Get Out the Kinks: Marion True, LACMA’s Fractional Gift, Ouroussoff’s Calatrava Flipflop

While I was helping my mother (above, ably supported by fabulous physical therapist Arlo) work out the kinks in her new artificial hip, much was going on in the real world:
—In the Dec. 17 issue of the New Yorker, a writer I have greatly admired, Hugh Eakin, conspicuously omitted some key details from his “Treasure Hunt”—the Getty gospel according to Marion True, the museum’s former antiquities curator. (Unfortunately, there is no link to the full text of the article on the Dec. 17 issue’s site.)
Among the questions raised by Eakin’s selective retelling of the Getty’s antiquities controversies:
Why did he mention the information against the Getty that came from Connoisseur magazine, but omitted the name of the moving force behind this, Tom Hoving, the magazine’s then editor-in-chief and the Metropolitan Museum’s former director, who famously feuded with the Getty?
Why did the account of True’s travails fail to mention this shocking episode in her estrangement from her former institution—the much publicized letter in which she took the Getty to task for its “calculated silence….You have chosen to announce the return of objects that are directly related to criminal charges filed against me by a foreign government…without a word of support for me, without any explanation of my role in the institution, and without reference to my innocence,”
Why did Eakin quote the museum’s former director, John Walsh, only about the reason why he appointed True as curator, but not on her controversial acquisitions, which occurred on his watch?
Why did Eakin mention that True faced a possible 20 years in prison, but not the fact that no one—not even the Italians and least of all True’s lawyers—expected her actually to be required to serve that time? Italian prosecutor Paolo Ferri told the LA Times: “True is an American citizen and will be able to evade my penal sanctions by going to the U.S.” Her court battle was part of her crusade to vindicate herself.
And why did Eakin fail to mention that Italian prosecutors indicated in September that True would likely be let off the hook for criminal charges, now that the Getty has agreed to relinquish most of the works that Italy has sought?
I can only guess that this knowledgeable and conscientious reporter had to make some bargains with sources that unduly limited what he could say.
—The Los Angeles County Museum’s director, Michael Govan, in the museum’s press release about its just-announced major modern art gift from Janice and Henri Lazarof, gave further support to my argument in a Sept. 4 LA Times Op-Ed, Museums Can’t Compete. I then noted that “the recent stratospheric rise of art prices has utterly outstripped most acquisitions budgets.”
Govan now states:
At a time when the art market has made it nearly impossible for museums to purchase works of this quality, this important acquisition brings to the people of Los Angeles works by key figures that define the modern century.
But how was it that the Lazarofs were willing to make such a major fractional and partial gift in the current unfavorable tax climate for this type of donation, which museum officials claim has essentially frozen this form of largesse?
And how was it that the NY Times made such an egregious error in describing the supposed benefits of fractional gifts?
Here’s the correction the Times ran the next day:
Because of an editing error, an article…about a promised gift of 130 artworks from Janice and Henri Lazarof to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art included an outdated reference to tax law governing partial donations….Under the current law, the tax deduction for partial gifts does not rise from year to year if works appreciate in value [as the original article had authoratively asserted]. Thus donors no longer benefit from bigger deductions for such appreciation.
Maybe the Times’ arts editors should consult the reporter before inserting substantive changes. My Wall Street Journal editors, I’m pleased to say, ALWAYS allow writers to review all changes, down to the commas.
—Architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff, in the lead story of yesterday’s NY Times “Week in Review” section, took a second occasion to hype the proposed new MoMA Monster tower designed by Jean Nouvel. This time, he extolled it as “the most exquisite tower to rise in Midtown Manhattan since the Chrysler Building”…if it does rise, that is: New York City’s onerous approval process will likely cause at least some modifications to the design.
Even more striking were the brickbats Ouroussoff hurled in the same essay at Santiago Calatrava‘s “overblown design for a transportation hub at ground zero in Lower Manhattan,…as much a monument to the architect’s ego as a statement of civic pride.” That same project had been praised in a NY Times editorial as an “extraordinary achievement.” The 2004 editorial added:
A few years ago, the thought that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey could have grasped the eloquence of Mr. Calatrava’s idiom would have seemed almost absurd.
Even more seemingly absurd is Ouroussoff’s cavalier dismissal yesterday of that transportation hub, coming less than three years after his own published comments enthusiastically welcoming it as “the single note of optimism [at Ground Zero] in what has mostly been a cesspool of cynicism and politics….With its crystalline form, the building, which was commissioned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is likely to be a more moving tribute to the memory of those who died there than even the ground zero memorial.”
Reasonable people can disagree…even with themselves!

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