Heralding the holiday season and looking forward to a new year when income tax laws will once again encourage donations of artworks to museums, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art has announced a major addition to its collection. “Map,” a seminal painting by Jasper Johns, is a gift of Marcia Weisman, a founding director of the museum and a long-time art collector.
By donating the painting that is generally regarded as the most important piece in her collection, Marcia Weisman said she hoped to inspire others to give the best of their collections to museums that will use the art and share it with the public.
“One of the motivations for giving this is to encourage people to go to MOCA and see this wonderful painting among all the other good things at the museum. You can’t appreciate art unless you see the real thing,” she said.
“Map” will go on view on Jan. 20 and again on April 7 in two exhibitions from the museum’s permanent collection.
Museum director Richard Koshalek said the gift of this “genuine masterpiece” is a “symbolic” act that bodes well for 1991, when donors will be able to deduct the full appreciated value of artworks donated to museums. The tax law change was enacted for one year only, but arts supporters are hoping to extend the provision, which was in effect until 1986.
“Map,” a trademark Johns done in 1962, depicts a map of the continental United States with the states’ names in stenciled letters. Despite its mundane subject matter, the 60x93-inch work is a very “painterly” painting, awash in slashing brush strokes and drips of pigment. Executed in encaustic and collage on canvas, it is predominantly blue-gray with rich passages of reds and yellows.
The work is typical of Johns’ revolutionary use of familiar, flat objects, such as targets and flags, which challenged the Abstract Expressionists’ emotional approach and ushered in the Pop age. “Map,” in particular, combines Expressionistic painting with a new interest in popular culture.
At MOCA, the painting provides a link between works by Jackson Pollock--donated by the Taft and Rita Schreiber estate and by Philip and Beatrice Gersh--and later works in the collection, Koshalek said.
Weisman has been wooed by several museums, but she decided to give the Johns to MOCA “because everything goes to the East. The map is coast-to-coast and art should be that way too,” she said, noting that her gift coincides with the 10th anniversary of Koshalek’s tenure at MOCA.
Her donation is a “partial gift,” with an as yet undesignated percentage of ownership and possession going to the museum this year and additional portions ceded over time until the museum has sole ownership and possession. This legally binding practice has become increasingly popular in recent years as a means of allowing collectors to keep their donated works part of the time and to spread tax deductions over an extended period.
The museum declined to put a dollar value on the gift, but major works by Johns--whom many critics regard as America’s most important living artist--have routinely sold for more than $1 million at auction. Johns made front page news in 1988 when his painting “White Flag” was sold for $7 million one night at Christie’s New York and another painting, “False Start,” brought $17 million the following evening at Sotheby’s. Art prices have subsequently fallen as speculators have withdrawn from the market, but Johns’ work has suffered no loss of status in the art world.