County Art Museum Picks Omaha Official as Director


Ending a 2 1/2-year search for a director, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art will announce today the appointment of Graham W. J. Beal, a contemporary art specialist who has directed the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha since 1989.

Beal, 48, who completes a new LACMA leadership team, will oversee artistic programs at the Wilshire Boulevard institution. But unlike past directors, he will be second in command, reporting to Andrea L. Rich, who in November became the museum’s first president and chief executive officer.

Born and educated in England, Beal has spent most of his career in the United States. He served as chief curator at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, two of the leading modern art museums in the United States. He is expected to assume the position in June.


The new bifurcated administration that Beal joins has been questioned in art circles; in June LACMA split its top job and announced Rich’s appointment after a 22-month search for a director proved fruitless. She previously had been executive vice chancellor at UCLA.

LACMA’s structure is unique among major American art museums, which are traditionally headed by art specialists who also hold the purse strings. Although the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Philadelphia Museum of Art also have paid presidents in charge of administrative and financial affairs, they report to the institutions’ directors.

In revamping its leadership, William A. Mingst, president of LACMA’s board of trustees, which is not a paid position, said the change was a practical necessity because it became apparent that the museum had been seeking one person to do two jobs. Critics of the new system feared that top candidates would not be interested in the downgraded position, but Mingst said few contenders objected to the altered job description. Beal was on the museum’s short list the first time around but thought the position was too demanding for one person.

“When they called to ask if I was still interested after the position changed, I said I was actually more interested,” Beal said. “It didn’t take more than one meeting to convince me that this was an intelligent solution.”

During the second round--both were conducted by Korn Ferry, an executive search firm--Beal was the leading candidate among 15, Mingst said, and the only one to be offered the position. Beal will earn an annual salary of $200,000 plus benefits and a living allowance that is under negotiation, all paid by Museum Associates, the museum’s support group. Rich earns a salary of $250,000, of which $100,000 is paid by the county and the rest by Museum Associates.

Beal received his master of arts degree in 17th-century art and architecture from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. After a brief tenure at the Sheffield City Art Galleries, as academic assistant to the director from 1972-73, he moved to the United States and served as director of the Steinberg Gallery of Art at Washington University in St. Louis from 1974-77. He was a curator at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis from 1977-79 and then chief curator from 1979-83.


He returned to England in 1983, serving for a year as director of the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. In 1984, he became chief curator of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, moving to Omaha in 1989 to direct the Joslyn Art Museum, which has a collection of American Indian, Western American and 19th- and 20th-century art. His curatorial experience is in the field of contemporary art, and he has organized numerous exhibitions of contemporary artists. Beal will move to Los Angeles with his wife, Nancy J. Andrews, and their two children, Priscilla 17, and Julian, 12.

Among areas Beal expects to help develop at the museum are education programs and connections with an ethnically diverse community.

“But the museum must remain a museum,” he said. “It will not become an art school. Our first responsibility is the acquisition, conservation, exhibition and interpretation of art.”

Mingst said Beal won LACMA’s bid because of his “commitment to art” and his experience. “It’s as if he had trained 20 years for this job.”

Rich concurred: “He has a terrific background for us. He was educated in England, and his expertise covers 17th-century to contemporary art, which includes much of the range of our collections. The progression of his career qualifies him well, and this is the right time in his life to come here. He’s an elegant man, a sophisticated man. And he really knows his art. That’s the piece we needed to fill in.”

Beal’s colleagues also praised him.

John Walsh, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, said, “Graham has a terrific reputation in the field, some experience in California, and he likes it here. I think he will go at the job full of brains and energy.”

Martin Friedman, retired director of Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center, who hired Beal as a curator in 1977, promoted him to chief curator in 1979 and worked with him for six years, said Beal has been on “a rising trajectory” and “reached a real watershed” at the Joslyn Art Museum, where he oversaw a $16-million expansion and renovation of the facility and led a $45-million capital campaign. Friedman characterized Beal as a team player likely to be “very sympathetic and supportive of the curators” at LACMA and an effective partner for Rich.

Henry T. Hopkins, director of the UCLA/Armand Hammer Museum and Cultural Center, who directed the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art during most of Beal’s 1984-89 tenure as that institution’s chief curator, called the appointment “a good thing for the community.”

“Graham is definitely an art person and good at working with people,” Hopkins said. “He fulfills everything you need in a museum director. He’s tall, good looking, an active fund-raiser and he looks great in a tuxedo.”

Beal’s appointment appears to close a chapter of uncertainty at the museum, which began in April 1992, when Earl A. “Rusty” Powell III resigned to direct the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Powell presided over a 12-year period of unprecedented growth at the museum, but his departure coincided with a countywide fiscal crisis that cut budgets, staff and programs and caused morale to plummet.

Troubles only seemed to get worse with the October 1992 appointment of Michael E. Shapiro as director, a curator who had little administrative or fund-raising experience. Shapiro resigned under duress in 1993, after less than a year at the helm.

Subsequently, the museum has stabilized its county funding, increased private patronage and upped its endowment from $21 million to about $60 million. Although operating with a tightened belt during the 1990s, like most arts institutions, and still working to recover lost attendance and membership, the museum has had a strikingly vigorous exhibition program during its extended search for leadership.


Profile: Graham W.J. Beal

Beal is the new director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

* Born: April 22, 1947, Stratford-on-Avon, England

* Residence: Omaha

* Education: M.A. in 17th century art and architecture, Courtauld Institute of Art, London, 1971

* Career highlights: Curator at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, 1977-79; chief curator, 1979-83. Director, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich, England, 1983-84. Chief curator, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1984-89. Director, Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, 1989-1996.

* Family: Married to Nancy J. Andrews. They have two children, Priscilla, 17, and Julian, 12.