Despite years of rumors that Norton Simon’s renowned collection might one day move from its Pasadena home, museum officials announced Thursday that despite his death the Norton Simon Museum will stay where it has been since 1975.
Since Simon took over the Pasadena Art Museum and turned it into a shrine for his own collection, he repeatedly had talked of plans to move the collection, each time setting off a furor of controversy.
To quell any doubts about the museum’s future, the museum released a statement Thursday saying:
“The person who formulated the collection and inspired the staff is no longer here. However, Mr. Simon put into place a staff he trusted to make the decisions about the museum’s operations and its future, and that group of people, working with the board of trustees, will continue to perform their functions.
“There are no plans for the collection to leave Pasadena,” the statement added.
Simon’s negotiations in the past included possible moves to San Francisco and UCLA, as well as an affiliation with the J. Paul Getty Trust. All but the Getty merger have been squelched over the years.
The two museums jointly purchased two artworks in the 1980s, fueling talk about a merger with the Getty, and Simon himself acknowledged discussing a cooperative venture with his friend and former business associate, Harold M. Williams, now president of the Getty Trust.
Simon’s death has inspired fresh speculation about a Getty merger, but officials of both institutions deny the rumor.
“We have no anticipation or expectation that there will be any affiliation,” Williams said. The subject remained a topic of casual discussion between the two friends, he said, and it came up about two weeks ago during Williams’ last visit to Simon. But a plan never developed, he said.
“What’s important is that the collection remain in Los Angeles,” Williams said. “That is really essential to the community. Norton Simon’s collection is not only important as a memorial to him but as the finest collection in this part of the country. It would be impossible to re-create it or to create an equivalent to it.”
Terms of Simon’s will have not been revealed, but sources close to the museum say he has provided an adequate endowment for the museum, although they would not name the amount. In addition, the museum owns an adjacent six-acre property, currently leased to automobile dealers, which could be sold or developed as income property.
The museum building, which is owned by the board of trustees, stands on land leased from the City of Pasadena for $1 a year. The 75-year lease runs until 2050.
Despite the plush appearance of the museum and the enormous value of his collection, Simon, the museum’s sole benefactor, ran the museum very frugally. The operating budget is about $2 million, far less than the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s budget, which reached a peak of $31 million before recent cuts.
However, the Simon museum does not organize traveling exhibitions or exhibit shows on loan from other institutions. A small in-house staff rotates works from the collection. The museum also limits the days it is open to the public to Thursdays through Sundays.
According to museum officials, neither the hours nor behind-the-scenes operations will change significantly. Simon’s wife, actress Jennifer Jones Simon, will continue to serve as president and chairwoman of the board of trustees.