Suit Fails but Codex Hammer Still for Sale : November auction is still planned despite judge’s dismissal of a $400-million claim by the niece of Armand Hammer’s late wife.
A court action that might have been expected to stop the sale of one of the UCLA/Ar mand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center’s most valuable assets--an illustrated scientific manuscript by Leonardo da Vinci--has had no such effect.
Although the lawsuit that prompted the museum to put the Italian Renaissance master’s manuscript up for auction has been dismissed, UCLA/Hammer officials say that the sale will go forward on Nov. 11 at Christie’s New York, as planned. Proceeds from the auction--which is expected to yield up to $10 million--will go to a reserve fund that may be needed to pay off other legal obligations, according to UCLA/Hammer Director Henry T. Hopkins. Any remaining money will be used to purchase other artworks, he said.
The manuscript is a 72-page compilation of scientific notes and sketches, which is second only in value to the museum’s Vincent van Gogh painting, “Hospital at Saint-Remy.” Long known as the Codex Leicester, the document was renamed the Codex Hammer in 1980 when the late chairman of Occidental Petroleum Corp. bought it for $5.1 million with funds provided by Occidental.
Questions about the propriety of the Leonardo sale arose in the press in June, when the auction was announced. According to standard practices--spelled out in the American Assn. of Museums’ Code of Ethics for Museums--proceeds from the sale of artworks in museums’ collections should not be used “for anything other than acquisition or direct care of collections.” The manuscript was slated for sale to establish a reserve fund as a hedge against a $400-million claim by Joan Weiss, the niece of Armand Hammer’s late wife, which sought half of the oil tycoon’s estate, including his art collections.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Henry W. Shatford on Aug. 3 dismissed the lawsuit, saying that no evidence supports Weiss’ claim that Hammer had cheated his wife out of her fair share of community property.
Asked why a $10-million reserve fund is needed now that the Weiss claim has been invalidated, Hopkins said: “I can’t comment except to say that the suit may be appealed and other legal matters are pending.” Selling a single high-priced item will assure that the museum’s collections of European paintings and works by French satirist Honore Daumier will remain intact, he said.
The Leonardo manuscript is said to be of greater significance as a scientific document than as an artwork. In announcing the auction, the UCLA/Hammer Museum released a statement, saying, “While the Codex Hammer is an exceedingly important and rare document, the sale of this manuscript would least impact the core aesthetic identity of the Armand Hammer collections.”
Funds raised from the Leonardo auction will be held in escrow and accrue interest for a period of eight years, in accordance with an operating agreement between the university and the museum. The agreement stipulates that, after eight years, income from the fund may be used for temporary exhibitions and other purposes at the discretion of the museum’s board of directors.
The Code of Ethics for Museums, which functions as a moral code rather than a legal obligation, does not specify how interest accrued from art sales should be used. However, Hopkins said if he is still at the museum when money from the reserve fund becomes available, he will abide by the code and insist that all monies realized from art sales be put into the collection.
MUCH ADO ABOUT FLUXUS: “In the Spirit of Fluxus,” a critically acclaimed international traveling show that celebrates an experimental art movement of the 1960s, has finally made its way to Southern California. The Santa Barbara Museum of Art will host the unorthodox exhibition, plus a suitably eclectic slate of related events, next Sunday to Oct. 16.
A relatively obscure movement that picked up where Dada left off, Fluxus was dedicated to merging art with everyday life, and to finding alternatives to elite systems for creating and distributing art. The exhibition, organized by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, includes more than 1,000 works including performance relics, books, posters, films and full-scale reconstructions of Fluxus environments.
“It’s like a fun house,” SBMA curator Diana du Pont said of the extravaganza. “There’s something for everyone, and it’s very accessible.” Inviting audience participation, the show features such user-friendly items as Yoshimasa Wada’s “What’s the Matter With Your Ear,” an interactive, computer-driven orchestra with household appliances as musical instruments.
“One piece I adore is the self-appointed head of Fluxus, George Maciunas’ collection and formal arrangement of all the cartons and containers of everyday things that he used for a year--from cereal boxes to nasal inhalers,” Du Pont said.
Confessing to being “totally in wonder” when she first saw the show in Minneapolis, Du Pont said she hopes that the SBMA presentation “will rekindle the hidden joy in adults.” As part of an ambitious effort to bring the show to Santa Barbara and organize related events, she enlisted the support of television comedy producer Tom Patchett, a major Fluxus collector who has donated funds and loaned many pieces to the show. Other support came from the National Endowment for the Arts and the museum’s Women’s Board and Friends of Contemporary Art.
A free public program--"FLUXFun for Everyone,” featuring street theater, music and performance art--will launch the show next Sunday from 2-4 p.m. Additional events include a performance and Q&A; with conceptual artist Yoko Ono on Sept. 9, a discussion with artist Allan Kaprow on Oct. 8 and a grand finale picnic and concert on Oct. 15. For information, call FLUXFONE: (805) 963-4364, Ext. 700.
AUCTION HOUSE SHUFFLE: Gearing up for the fall season, local branches of major auction houses have made a batch of new appointments. Hannah Shore, head of Christie’s Beverly Hills operation, is moving to New York to coordinate the firm’s 19 regional offices. Her successor is Neal Meltzer, formerly a contemporary art specialist and business getter at Christie’s New York office. Grace Russak is leaving her position as Butterfield and Butterfield’s trust and estates representative in Los Angeles for a similar position at Christie’s Beverly Hills. Laura Nagle, head of Butterfield and Butterfield’s prints department, is joining Sotheby’s to work with the firm’s Los Angeles print sales. In other moves at Sotheby’s Beverly Hills office, Victoria Edwards has been promoted to senior manager of the print department and Laura Maslon has taken charge of public relations.
KUDOS TO BEA: The Museum of Contemporary Art has launched a program to honor Southern California women in the arts. The first winner of the MOCA Award to Distinguished Women in the Arts is Beatrice Gersh, a contemporary art collector and patron who has served as a MOCA trustee since 1981. She will receive her award on Sept. 28. *