Who Just Gave LACMA the Biggest Gift In Its History?

The Miracle Mile museum receives $500 million of art but there’s a bit of mystery behind the donation

WHAT: What’s the best kind of shopping spree? One where you don’t have to pay a bill. That’s sort of what went down at LACMA. The Miracle Mile museum didn’t go on a buying binge, but it recently received the largest donation of art in its history. More intriguing, all of the masterpieces come from an anonymous donor who is only described  as a “major art collector.” The bequest includes works by Pablo Picasso, Camille Pissarro, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Pierre Bonnard though the institution hasn’t revealed how many paintings or precisely which ones it received. LACMA plans to announce more details about the donation at a press conference tomorrow morning.

If that wasn’t enough, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors recently voted to contribute $125 million to the museum’s plan for a new building. Designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, it was originally going to be shaped like a big black amoeba. After much criticism, the museum in June proposed a new design that was lighter, more sprawling, and spanned both the north and south sides of Wilshire Boulevard. The total budget for the project is (currently) $650 million, so only $525 million to go. Anyone want to buy a few Impressionist paintings…? Just kidding.

THE VERDICT: Exceptional. It’s not every day a museum, any museum, receives a gift like this. The mystery element is a terrific bonus. It makes us feel like we’re living in a real-life, art world version of Clue (both the board game and the movie).

UPDATE: The LA Times is reporting that the mysterious benefactor is 83-year-old Jerry Perenchio, a publicity-shy former talent agent who worked with Lew Wasserman at MCA and later made smart business deals to buy Avco Embassy Picture Corp. and Univision. Along the way Perenchio used his wealth to amass an impressive art collection. Upon his death at least 47 works, valued at approximately $500 million, will go to LACMA. They include “Le Jardin de l’artist á Vétheuil” (The Artist’s Garden at Vethéuil) by Claude Monet,  “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” (Dangerous Liaisons) by Réné Magritte, and “Femme au Bouquet” (Woman With a Bouquet) by Fernand Léger. But as the Times says: “It comes with one big string attached: The museum must first complete construction of its new building.” Even so, Perenchio’s donation is a major victory for the home team.