Chapter 32: A Proposed Gift to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

On December 8, 1981, Mr. John P. Anderson of the prestigious law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher wrote to Dr. Earl Powell, III, Director of The Los Angeles County Museum of Arts (now Director of The National Gallery of Art at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.), to inform him of the Mansoors' intention to donate a sculpture from their Amarna Collection to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Mr. Anderson emphasized that "the Louvre Museum and the Vatican Museum have both accepted pieces from this collection. The Louvre did so after extensive analysis and testing. Chairperson Desroches Noblecourt, Inspecteur Général des Musées, Chef du Département des Antiquitiés Egyptiennes du Musée du Louvre, personally handled this matter and concluded that the piece is genuine."

On January 8, 1982, Dr. Powell wrote to Mr. Anderson to inform him that Ms. Sheila Canby of the Museum's staff would arrange to view the collection as soon as possible. On September 14, 1982, Mr. Anderson wrote to Ms. Canby: "We understand that you are involved in the process of evaluating the proposed gift of a piece of sculpture from the Mansoor collection to the Los Angeles County Art Museum. If we can be of any assistance in this process, please let us know."

A few days later Ms. Canby reviewed the proposed gift. On September 22, 1982, she wrote to Mr. Anderson:

On October 14, 1982, Dr. Powell wrote to Mr. Anderson: "Thank you for your letters to our staff concerning a proposed gift of a piece of sculpture from the Mansoor Collection to the Museum. We have reviewed the gift carefully and regret that we cannot accept the piece into our Collection. Thank you for your kind offer."

On October 19, 1982, Mr. Anderson wrote to Dr. Powell: "Thank you for your letter of October 14, 1982, concerning the Mansoor collection. I personally would llike the opportunity for my own edification to discuss this with you or your experts. I make this request only in the interest of becoming more familiar with these matters generally."

Dr. Powell did not answer Mr. Anderson's letter of October 19. On November 9, 1982, Mr. Anderson wrote a second letter to Powell: "In my letter of October 19, 1982, I indicated a desire to review for purpose of my own education the specific findings of the Museum's careful study of the proposed Mansoor gift piece. The purpose of my inquiry is to see if I can personally reconcile the view of your experts and, for example, the enclosed report from the Laboratoire De Minéralogie-Cristallographie of the University of Sorbonne. This report together with the personal review of Madame Desroches-Noblecourt led to the decision by the Louvre Museum to accept a piece from the collection (copy of acceptance letter enclosed)."

On November 30, 1982 Dr. Powell wrote:

On February 14, 1983, Mr. Arthur J. Volkerts, editor of the Press Democrat of Santa Rosa, California, wrote to Dr. Powell:

Mr. Powell did not answer. Mr. Volkerts requested the same information a second time, and on April 4, 1983, Mr. Powell answered:

As we can see, the offer was flatly rejected, possibly out of support for some of Powell's colleagues.

In the letter dated September 22, 1982, Ms. Sheila Canby writes her title under her signature: "Associate Curator - West Asian and Egyptian Art."

In his letter to Mr. Anderson, dated November 30, 1982, Mr. Powell said: " . . . the Museum does not have a spcialist in Egyptian art and does not wish to pursue the matter of a gift of art from this collection."

And finally, Dr. Powell stated to Mr. Volkerts: "These issues are brought to the attention of the Board unless the professional staff has first reviewed them and in this instance the curator did not wish to proceed with the gift."

Can't Dr. Powell make up his mind? Does he or doesn't he have a specialist or curator in his museum? Am I missing something? No. It is perfectly clear that Dr. Powell was not sincere at all in handling the matter of the proposed gift. Is his refusal part of a conspiracy? It seems to be so, since Mr. Anderson purposely wrote to inform him that two of the most important and famous museums in the world, The Vatican and The Louvre, " . . . have both accepted pieces from this collection . . . . "

Another interesting incident also involves Dr. Powell.

On January 21, 1982, Dr.Pieter Meyers, Senior Research Chemist at the Conservation Center of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, wrote to Dr. Stross:

In a letter dated June 9, 1982, Dr. Stross wrote to Dr. Meyers:

As the reader may have guessed it, for obvious reasons the lecture on the Mansoor sculpture did not materialize.

On December 20, 1984, Dr. Armand Hammer wrote to Dr. Earl Powell, Director of The Los Angeles County Museum of Art:

On December 31, 1984, Dr. Powell answered:

But what about Dr. Meyers' letter to Dr. Stross dated January 21, 1982, in which he wrote: "I have always been interested in these problematic objects, particularly because of the impressive scientific evidence favoring authenticity . . . . A scholarly lecture on the subject would be of considerable interest."

Here again, are we facing an obstruction or a conspiracy? Dr. Powell should have submitted the proposal of the Mansoors' donation to theBoard of Trustees of The Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Did he fear a positive report from his own laboratory proving the authenticity of the Mansoor sculptures? Did he deprive the Los Angeles Museum of an important and priceless art masterpiece out of solidarity for some of his colleagues? If it is so, then I believe he failed pitifully in his duty as a director of a museum; his loyalty should have been first toward the institution that employs him. And this is the same Earl Powell who was mentioned in the Los Angeles Times dated June 2, 1982, in an article under the title "Museum Officials Falsified Records on Gifts, IRS Says." Ms. Claire Spiegel, Times Staff Writer, wrote: "The director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Earl Powell III, said that museum officials made 'a mistake' in accepting and approving phony documentation accompanying the gift of a rare Egyptian funerary column." Knowing all of the above, one wonders if it was a good choice for The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., one of the most prominent institutions in the world, to appoint Earl Powell as a director.

Every so often, we read articles in newspapers and magazines concerning the abuse and mismanagement of many of our American museums by some of their officials. In The Los Angeles Times of March 17, 1981, Mr. William C. Rempel, Times Staff/Writer, writes two long articles. In the first, on the front page, under the headline "Museums-Public Seeks Bigger Voice," he writes, " . . . The Maryhill Museum, on the Columbia River banks . . . the institution and its collection were in the questionable care of a director who had been promoted to the job from carpenter by the original board of museum trustees - which happened to include on of his relatives . . . an inventory of artifacts . . . led to discovery that more than $200,000 in art treasures were missing.By then the director had resigned and so had his son, the museum gardener, who had succeeded him as director . . . . This was not an isolated case. Mounting public demand that the art and artifacts of mankind's cultures be protected from abuse or incompetent management is making the courts a tool of museum reform from New York to California, affecting even the best-known institutions." The second long article is on page 21, under the headline "Armor Museum in Middle of Court Battle."

Again, the Mansoors felt sorry for the American museums. They wonder: "When will our American museum heads regain their senses? The museum is a sacred institution. It is the abode of man's greatest artistic achievements. It is the place where we nourish our feelings, our emotions and our senses. It is the haven where we understand the nature of man, his love, his compassion, his creativity, his art."

Our museums must regain their purity and grandeur. They, as heads, must recognize and exhibit the truth, and they must expel from their midst the unwanted elements who stand in the way of their noble aims.

Copyright © 1995 Christine Mansoor

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