The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is downsizing. The home of its director, that is.
On Monday, the museum put the Hancock Park home of director Michael Govan up for sale for $6.575 million. The property on Muirfield Road is owned by Museum Associates, the nonprofit entity that manages and operates LACMA. It’s listed as a five-bedroom, 5,100-square-foot Tudor-style home from 1926 that sits on nearly a 22,000-square-foot lot, according to public records.
Real estate listings, however, show six bedrooms and seven bathrooms, as well as a swimming pool, a guest house and a stairwell area with a neon sculpture by Dan Flavin.
LACMA provides the home to the director as a perk of employment, and it is reported as part of Govan’s compensation package on IRS 990 forms at a value of $155,000. (This means that the value of the home is counted as taxable income.)
In May, public records show that Museum Associates acquired a less costly residential property in Mid-Wilshire, just three blocks south, for $2.2 million. The Spanish colonial-style home, also built in 1926, is considerably smaller: a 3,300-square-foot house that sits on a 7,800-square-foot lot.
“The director has decided to sell the museum-owned residence to reduce maintenance expense and free resources for other museum programs and operations,” said a LACMA spokesperson regarding the sale.
It is not uncommon for major museums to provide housing for their directors. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York supplies an apartment on Fifth Avenue for the use of director Daniel H. Weiss. Likewise, Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art, receives a museum-paid apartment in Museum Tower, the residential building adjacent to his institution on Manhattan’s 53rd Street. Presumably, this is because directors’ homes are used to host fundraising parties, trustee gatherings and other museum-related events.
But the practice has come under increasing tax scrutiny and it has become a favorite target of activists who point to issues of labor inequity within museums. (Some museum directors earn six- and seven-figure salaries, but visitor services associates, some with advanced degrees, earn wages that barely break the minimum.)
In Los Angeles, the Getty does not supply a home or a housing allowance to Getty Trust CEO James Cuno or J. Paul Getty Museum director Jim Potts. Likewise, the Hammer Museum doesn’t provide housing for director Ann Philbin.
Currently, LACMA is undertaking a $750 million project to renovate its campus by replacing buildings by William L. Pereira & Associates and Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer with a single new structure by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. Unlike many other museums during the pandemic, LACMA has not laid off or furloughed staff thanks to a $6.7 million loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. But the downsizing of the director’s home could indicate that institutional belt-tightening is afoot.