Reflections on the Decade: Transforming the Modern Art Collection

January 1, 2010

After a bit more than three decades at LACMA, being asked to reflect on the biggest story of the last ten years, I instantly knew what it was. Though it was exciting to spearhead the massive Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity show at the beginning of the decade, and to be the curator who organized the first showing of Gustav Klimt: Five Paintings from the Collection of Ferdinand and Adele Bloch-Bauer, without a doubt it’s the building of the permanent collection that is the most lasting thing a curator can do. In the field of modern art, with the skyrocketing prices in the art market of the last twenty years, it has become almost impossible for museums to make major purchases, causing us to rely upon the generosity of collectors who donate works to the museum.

The acquisition of the Henri and Janice Lazarof Collection truly transformed our collection of modern art. In one magnificent gesture by these Los Angeles collectors, we were able to add 130 paintings, sculptures and works on paper—more than twenty works by Picasso, a group of sculptures by Giacometti, works by the Bauhaus artists Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, and remarkable examples by Brancusi, Braque, Matisse, Léger, Dufy, Degas, and many others. In late 2006 I started installing the modern collection in its new home—on the plaza level of the Ahmanson Building. With new walls, floors, and ceilings, we were able to rethink the presentation of art of the first three quarters of the twentieth century, something I’ve waited a long time to do. It was the occasion to premiere the new Lazarof Collection, integrate it within the entire collection, and to see how beautifully it complemented our other holdings. When the galleries opened to much acclaim in January 2007 it was tremendously gratifying. This was without a doubt the most important acquisition I’ve had the privilege to be involved with, and every day I walk through the galleries, still amazed by the remarkable works that are now “ours.” What a transformation of a collection, and how lucky we all are to have these works available to our public!

Stephanie Barron, Senior Curator, Modern Art