The longtime head of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art will announce today that she is resigning from the post, a surprising move that comes a decade after she was asked to turn around an institution still trying to rebound from budget cuts and leadership turmoil.
Andrea L. Rich -- widely credited with strengthening the museum financially and artistically -- said power struggles with some members of the museum’s board of trustees played into her decision to step down in November but added that there had not been “any particular crisis.”
“When you have strong-minded trustees who have deep interests and passions and you have a strong minded director whose opinions may not conform, you are going to have potential differences of opinion,” she said. “That certainly has been true throughout my 10 years. Not everyone on the board always agreed on the direction I was leading them.
“It’s been a terrific 10 years, but 10 years is a long time,” said Rich, 61. “A lot more needs to be done, with new energy. The place is in great shape. I feel very good. I wouldn’t move on if I didn’t feel that the administration was in great shape, and we were financially in great shape.”
Her resignation comes just weeks after the museum announced that $156 million had been raised for an ambitious expansion and renovation, enough for construction to begin by year’s end on the first round of architect Renzo Piano’s plans for the Wilshire Boulevard facilities.
That announcement marked a major turning point for the museum, which had to abandon an earlier, more sweeping plan for the museum complex after failing to raise enough money.
Wally Weisman, chairman of LACMA’s board of trustees, said he believed now was a “marvelous point” for Rich to announce her retirement.
“She’ll be here, she’ll be sitting on that dais and cut the ribbon and that kind of stuff, but there is a tremendous amount of footwork needed to develop support in the community,” Weisman said. “It calls for a different kind of person and leadership.”
Eli Broad, the billionaire builder and philanthropist who has been at the center of the museum’s expansion efforts, said Rich had done a “magnificent job” and was leaving the museum “a better place today than when she arrived.”
“Ten years is a long time to run a museum,” said Broad, 71. “Andrea and I have agreed on mostly everything. She is leaving because she is tired, I think.”
Rich, who had a long career in academia, called her time at LACMA “a little clip of my life, a little film clip, a diversion, and a great challenge, and it was terrifically important to the city to position the place to be what it could be.”
Rich brought Broad onto the museum’s board of trustees within months of her 1995 hiring; he has donated $50 million for the creation of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA and $10 million more to purchase art.
It was the start of a long courtship of Broad, whose personal fortune is estimated at about $5 billion, including a substantial art collection coveted by museum directors nationwide.
Although Broad has lent some 200 pieces to LACMA, he has not yet committed his collection permanently to the museum. He was a founding chairman of the Museum of Contemporary Art in L.A. and was elected last year to the board of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, fueling speculation in the art world about where his collection ultimately will be kept.
In early March, the Art Newspaper posted a job opening for a deputy director of contemporary art to lead the museum that will bear Broad’s name at LACMA. Rich said that she had disagreed with Broad about how that position should be filled but said that the disagreement did not precipitate her resignation.
Broad said Sunday that although he had had discussions with Rich about the position, he did not consider them particularly heated or divisive.
“I am not aware of any tensions or frictions; there were just discussions,” Broad said.
Rich had answered questions in the past about whether she was ceding too much power to Broad. With his large donation to the museum, Broad got to choose the architect. A separate board, which includes his wife, Edythe, will at least temporarily govern the new contemporary art museum.
Rich addressed the issue of tension between major donors and museum directors in an interview with The Times last year.
“People ask how I can turn over such power to Eli,” she said, noting that she believed he had the experience, taste and pocketbook to warrant her decision.
“Donors shouldn’t be given control of museum operations, personnel and policy. And anything that would inhibit the institutions long-term control of a gift is not a good thing,” she said. “But I figure if Eli wants to have fun with this for 10 years, if he wants to buy art, build a building and know, when it’s all said and done, his contribution is part of something forever, what’s wrong with that?”
County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said Sunday that he was “shocked and extremely surprised by the sudden turn of events.” He said he and other county officials were happy with Rich’s leadership of the partially publicly funded museum and will want to “understand what happened here.”
Rich did not have an arts background when she was hired to fill a top spot at LACMA that had been vacant for nearly two years. To take the job, she left UCLA, where she was vice chancellor for academic administration. There, she was credited with spearheading negotiations for UCLA to take over the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center.
She was chosen to bolster LACMA’s finances and popularity, which she did in part by bringing in blockbuster shows of works by artists such as Van Gogh, Picasso and Diego Rivera. During her tenure, the museum expanded, and both memberships and collections grew. Since 1995, LACMA has acquired notable collections of Islamic, Korean and Mexican art.
“She was an out-of-the box selection, and the museum world greeted her with some degree of concern,” said Weisman. “But that was very rapidly dealt with, and she has done extraordinarily well.”
There was controversy when she took over as director of the museum four years after becoming president, a position set up as a separate job when she was hired.
“It’s fair to say, some people had concerns because she didn’t have a specific background in art museums but I think she proved to be a good leader,” said Deborah Gribbon, former director of the J. Paul Getty Museum.
Gribbon, who herself resigned unexpectedly last year, said she was “surprised and saddened” to hear of Rich’s planned departure. She said under Rich’s tenure “the temporary exhibitions have been both popular and scholarly -- and I do admire the way that she went about planning for the renovation and addition to the new museum.”
Perhaps most importantly, Gribbon said Rich “put the museum back on the road financially.”
There were disappointments, most prominently the failed fundraising effort for a massive razing and reconstruction of the museum.
The plan was abandoned in 2002 after officials conceded they could not raise the estimated $400 million cost.
Rich, who has had a spinal disease for about five years, said medical concerns played only a minor role in her decision to step aside in November, which will mark her 10-year anniversary at the museum. She said she had no immediate plans.
Times staff writer Miguel Bustillo contributed to this report.