"Gratitude is the theme of our 50th anniversary," Michael Govan, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's chief executive, said at the media preview for the new exhibit "50 for 50: Gifts on the Occasion of LACMA's Anniversary."
The show, which is in member previews this week and opens to the public Sunday, follows a star-studded celebratory gala on April 18 that raised $5 million and featured a performance by Seal. The "50 for 50" exhibit showcases more than $675 million in gifted art from patrons including LACMA trustees Jane Nathanson and Lynda Resnick.
"There's nothing better than knowing that the big gala fundraiser is lasting in the form of '50 for 50,'" Govan said.
One of the pieces that Govan said he is most excited about is a wooden serpent headdress from the Republic of Guinea that is estimated to be from the late 18th century. It's a promised gift of businessman Bobby Kotick, and for years it was in the studio of painter Henri Matisse.
"It's one of the most beautiful pieces of African art that I've ever seen," Govan said.
Other notable works in the exhibition include Taddeo Gaddi's "Crucifixion with the Madonna and Saint John the Evangelist" (circa 1360), "Christ Blessing" by Renaissance master Hans Memling (1480-85) and a bronze sculpture called "Flying Mercury" (1580s) by the Mannerist sculptor Giambologna, who was appointed court sculptor for the Medici family in 1565.
A marble bust titled "Portrait of a Gentleman" (1670-75) is by Italian Baroque sculptor Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini. And spanning three centuries: Rococo painter Francois Boucher's playful "Leda and the Swan" (1742), Impressionist master Edgar Degas' "At the Cafe Concert: The Song of the Dog" (1875) and the brooding "T.V." (1964) by Latvian American artist Vija Celmins.
The gifts reflect the diversity of LACMA's collection, and as such the exhibit could not be designed in a conventional way, Govan said.
"We kept laughing about why we put certain pieces together," he said, joking that perhaps two objects could be installed by each other because "maybe they were both shiny."
Some of the gifts won't officially be the museum's property until a date of the donor's choosing.
"We said, 'If you want to give it now, great, but if you want to give it at the end of your life, that's fine too,'" Govan said.
"50 for 50" will be open free to the public on Sunday, LACMA's 50th Anniversary Free Community Day.