Largest gift of art in LACMA's history includes works by Monet, Picasso and more

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The Los Angeles County Museum of Art received a double dose of good news this week.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved $125 million in bonds to support the planned overhaul of the LACMA campus. 

One day later, the museum is announcing what is being called the largest gift of art in its almost 50-year history.

The donor is Jerry Perenchio, the former owner of Univision, whose business group sold the Spanish-language TV network in 2007 for a reported $12.3 billion.

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The collection — at least 47 pieces with an estimated value of $500 million — includes work by such European masters as Pierre Bonnard, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, René Magritte, Pablo Picasso and others.

Museum CEO and director Michael Govan told KPCC that he's been aware of Perenchio's collection and hoped it would end up at LACMA.

"A very few of us have known that one of the very best collections of art in Los Angeles was held by Mr. Perenchio," Govan said. "It's always on the agenda of a museum director to see if you can keep the great masterpieces in the city where they are, in the museum for the public.

"I did seek him out, in a way, but he always had hoped that there would be an opportunity to leave his collection — I think he calls them 'his children' — in Los Angeles."

Govan said the value of the collection can not be measured in dollars alone.

"The real value is the works themselves," he said. "The paint [and] the light in a Monet painting is priceless." 

The donation from the 83-year-old Perenchio is actually a bequest, meaning the collection goes to the museum after his death. But Perenchio also stipulated that the museum must complete its planned rebuilding of the LACMA campus. Most of LACMA's older buildings will be demolished to make way for a new design by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor.

"Mr. Perenchio has built this collection over his life and he wants to live with them," said Govan, "which is no problem because museums are in business forever." He added that the wait to receive the collection is "just a speck of time compared to the time of art history." 

But Govan said that museum visitors will be able to see part of the collection next year.

"He has offered to us to show some of the highlights very soon," Govan said. "In fact, in a matter of months, so you'll get a taste of that.

"And, yes, there is one big string attached: he told me that since I [came] to L.A. that we've done a great job with our new facilities, but really the [older] facilities we have aren't up to the task and he really wants to see us build the visionary building that Peter Zumthor has designed." 

In addition to the $125 million in bonds provided by L.A. County, museum leaders have pledged to privately raise an additional $475 million for the project.

"We did not ask the county for the total amount of the liability of fixing up the old buildings," Govan said. "And we're in a strong position, finally, to raise significant private money for the replacement of a county asset."

Govan noted that LACMA's newest buildings will remain open to visitors when construction begins in 2018. He hopes the new facility will be completed before the Metro Wilshire subway line reaches the museum in 2023. 

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