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:
Thank you for your letter of September 14. The matter of a proposed gift from the Mansoor collection has been taken up with Dr. Pal and is now being considered by the Director of the Museum, Earl Powell. I am sure that you will be hearing from Dr. Powell soon concerning the proposed gift.
Sheila Canby (signed)
West Asian and Egyptian Art
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:
Dear Mr. Anderson,
I am in receipt of your letter of November 9 concerning the Egyptian pieces in the Mansoor collection. As I mentioned earlier in previous correspondence, the Museum does not have a specialist in Egyptian art and does not wish to pursue the matter of a gift of art from this collection. I thank you for your interest in the Museum and regret that it is not possible for us to proceed with this gift.
On February 14, 1983, Mr. Arthur J. Volkerts, editor of the Press Democrat of Santa Rosa, California, wrote to Dr. Powell:
For a number of years we have been interested in covering the story of the M.A. Mansoor Collection of El-amarna Sculptures and Reliefs.
We understand that the Mansoor family offered to donate a piece from the collection to your museum, and that it was refused. Could you please tell us the reasons for the refusal? We would also like to know the names of those involved in making that decision. We assume that, as an agency of Los Angeles County, your records are open to the public.
Arthur J. Volkerts, (signed)
Mr. Powell did not answer. Mr. Volkerts requested the same information a second time, and on April 4, 1983, Mr. Powell answered:
Dear Mr. Volkerts:
This will acknowledge your letter of March 22nd regarding the M.A. Mansoor Collection.
Works of art are accessioned into the collections of the Museum based on the professional judgment and interest of the curators in those pieces. These issues are not 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.
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:
I received your letter of December 20, 1981. As you may infer from the letterhead I am no longer in New York but in Los Angeles. I joined the staff of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in July 1981.
I was very interested to hear about the recent developments of the Mansoor sculptures. I have always been interested in these problematic objects, particularly because of the impressive scientific evidence favoring authenticity. Do you have any material on these objects published after "Je cherche un Homme . . .?"
I believe that a scholarly lecture on the subject would be of considerable interest in Los Angeles. Would you be interested in presenting such a lecture? I will inquire about the possibility of including this topic in the lecture program of the J. Paul Getty Museum, as our program does not have a suitable format.
Since we are now much closer I hope that we will have an opportunity to meet again.
Please let me know if you plan to be in the Los Angeles area.
In a letter dated June 9, 1982, Dr. Stross wrote to Dr. Meyers:
A few months ago you mentioned a possible interest in my giving a talk on the scientific studies made on the Amarna sculptures owned by the Mansoor family. I believe I informed you that I was about to go on a lecture tour relating to my archaeometric activities, for the American Chemical Society. I have returned from that trip, but I plan to leave again around the middle of July, and to return around the end of August. My fall schedule is still flexible, but I should like to start developing it, since I am thinking of firming up some information on obsidian deposits in the Mesoamerican area in the not too distant future. Could you give me an idea if, and approxiamately when, you or your colleagues might want to schedule my talk?
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:
I was recently introduced to Mr. Michel Mansoor who possesses a collection of Egyptian antiquities. He and his brothers inherited this collection from their parents who assembled it in Egypt in the early 1920's.
Apparently there is some controversy about the authenticity of the collection, which has continued in this country since 1949. At that time, I understand that a Mr. William Young, then of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, examined the collection and determined that it was not authentic. Since that time, the Mansoors have had numerous scientific tests conducted that indicate that the pieces are authentic
Recently, the Pope accepted two pieces into the vatican Museum collection. The Louvre has accepted one piece from the collection and it is displayed.
I would appreciate very much your arranging for your laboratory to conduct tests on these pieces to determine on your own their authenticity. I understand that a Dr. Pieter Meyers, your Senior Research Chemist, is familiar with the collection. Perhaps he or another appropriate member of your staff could conduct tests on the objects.
On December 31, 1984, Dr. Powell answered:
Thank you for your letter of December 20th requesting the laboratory at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to conduct tests on pieces of the Mansoor collection of Egyptian antiquities.
I discussed this with Pieter Meyers and have concluded that it will not be possible for Pieter or our staff to participate in yet another analysis of the material. Pieter and our research facility are engaged in major studies of our own collection and the backlog in the museum alone would not permit our staff to conduct an analysis of outside works of art at this time.
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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