Michael Govan

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Michael Govan (born 1963) is the director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art since 2006. Prior to this, Govan worked as the director of the Dia Art Foundation in New York City.

Early life and education[edit]

Govan was born in 1963 in North Adams, Massachusetts, and was raised in the Washington D.C. area, attending Sidwell Friends School. From an early age, Govan dreamed of becoming an artist.[1]

He majored in Art History and Fine Arts at Williams College, where he met Thomas Krens, who was then director of the Williams College Museum of Art. Govan became closely involved with the museum, serving as Acting Curator as an undergraduate. After receiving his B.A. from Williams in 1985, Govan began an MFA in Fine Arts at UCSD.[2]


As a twenty-five year old graduate student, Govan was recruited by his former mentor at Williams, Thomas Krens, who in 1988 had been appointed director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Govan served as deputy director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum under Krens from 1988 to 1994, a time of great expansion that culminated in the construction and opening of the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim branch in Bilbao, Spain.[3] Govan supervised the reinstallation of the museum's permanent collection galleries after its extensive renovation.[4]

Directorship of Dia Art Foundation[edit]

From 1994 to 2006, Govan was president and director of Dia Art Foundation in New York City. There, he spearheaded the conversion of a Nabisco box factory into the 300,000 square foot Dia:Beacon in New York's Hudson Valley, which houses Dia's collection of art from the 1960s to the present. Built in a former Nabisco box factory, the critically acclaimed museum has been credited with catalyzing a cultural and economic revival within the formerly factory-based city of Beacon.[5] Dia's collection nearly doubled in size during Govan's tenure, but he also came under criticism for "needlessly and permanently" closing Dia's West 22nd Street building.[6] During his time at Dia, Govan also worked closely with artists James Turrell and Michael Heizer, becoming an ardent supporter of Roden Crater and City, the artists' respective site-specific land art projects under construction in the American southwest. Govan successfully lobbied Washington to have the 704,000 acres in central Nevada surrounding City declared a national monument in 2015.[7]

Directorship of LACMA[edit]

In February 2006, a search committee composed of eleven LACMA trustees, led by the late Nancy M. Daly, recruited Govan to run the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.[8] Govan has stated that he was drawn to the role not only because of LACMA's geographical distance from its European and east coast peers, but also because of the museum's relative youth, having been established in 1961. "I felt that because of this newness I had the opportunity to reconsider the museum," Govan has written, "[and] Los Angeles is a good place to do that."[9]

Govan has been widely regarded for transforming LACMA into both a local and international landmark.[10] Since Govan's arrival, LACMA has acquired by donation or purchase over 27,000 works for the permanent collection, and the museum's gallery space has almost doubled thanks to the addition of two new buildings designed by Renzo Piano, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) and the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Pavilion.[11] LACMA's annual attendance has grown from 600,000 to nearly 1.6 million in 2016.

Artist Collaborations[edit]

The visual identity of LACMA's galleries and its campus have changed significantly. Since his arrival, Govan has commissioned exhibition scenography and gallery designs in collaboration with artists. In 2006, for example, Govan invited LA artist John Baldessari to design an upcoming exhibition about the Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte, resulting in a theatrical show that reflected the twisted perspective of the latter's topsy-turvy world.[12] Baldessari has also designed LACMA's logo.[13] Since then, Govan has also commissioned Cuban-American artist Jorge Pardo to design LACMA's Art of the Ancient Americas gallery, described in the Los Angeles Times as a "gritty cavern deep inside the earth ... crossed with a high-style urban lounge."[14]

Govan has also commissioned several large-scale public artworks for LACMA's campus from contemporary California artists. These include Chris Burden's Urban Light (2008), a series of 202 vintage street lamps from different neighborhoods in Los Angeles, arranged in front of the entrance pavilion, Barbara Kruger's Untitled (Shafted) (2008), Robert Irwin's Primal Palm Garden (2010), and Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass, a 340-ton boulder transported 100 miles from the Jurupa Valley to LACMA, a widely publicized journey that culminated with a large celebration on Wilshire Boulevard.[15] Thanks in part to the popularity of these public artworks, LACMA was ranked the fourth most instagrammed museum in the world in 2016.[16]

In his first three full years, the museum raised $251 million—about $100 million more than it collected during the three years before he arrived.[17] In 2010, it was announced that Govan will steer LACMA for at least six more years.[18] In a letter dated February 24, 2013, Govan, along with the LACMA board's co-chairmen Terry Semel and Andrew Gordon, proposed a merger with the financially troubled Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and a plan to raise $100 million for the combined museum.[19]

Zumthor Project[edit]

Govan's latest project is an ambitious building project, the replacement of four of the campus's aging buildings with a single new state of the art gallery building designed by architect Peter Zumthor. As of January 2017, he has raised about $300 million in commitments.[20] Construction is expected to begin in 2018, and the new building will open in 2023, to coincide with the opening of the new Purple Line metro stop on Wilshire Boulevard. The project also envisages dissolving all existing curatorial departments and departmental collections. Some commentators have been highly critical of Govan's plans. Joseph Giovannini, recalling Govan's technically unrealizable onetime plan to hang Jeff Koons' Train sculpture from the facade of the Ahmanson Gallery, has accused Govan of "driving the institution over a cliff into an equivalent mid-air wreck of its own". Describing the collection merging proposal as the creation of a "giant raffle bowl of some 130,000 objects", Giovannini also points out that the Zumthor building will contain 33% less gallery space than the galleries it will replace, and that the linear footage of wall space available for displays will decrease by about 7,500 ft, or 1.5 miles.[21] On the merging of the separate curatorial divisions to create a non-departmental art museum, Christopher Knight has pointed out that "no other museum of LACMA's size and complexity does it" that way, and characterized the museum's 2019 "To Rome and Back" exhibition, the first to take place under the new scheme, as "bland and ineffectual" and an "unsuccessful sample of what's to come".[22]

Personal life[edit]

Govan is married and has two daughters. He and his family now live in a $5-million house in Hancock Park provided by LACMA - a benefit worth $126,500 a year, according to tax filings.[23] He has had a private pilot's license since 1995 and keeps a 1979 Beechcraft Bonanza at Santa Monica Airport.[24]


  1. ^ Edgers, Geoff (October 30, 2015). "Meet the museum director who hangs with Leo and Kanye and paid $10 million for a rock". Washington Post.
  2. ^ Williams College. "Interview". How'd You Get There?. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  3. ^ Finkel, Jori (May 15, 2011). "A master works his magic on the museum". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  4. ^ Edward Wyatt (March 28, 2007), A Director Weighs in With a Curatorial Touch New York Times.
  5. ^ Micucci, Dana; International Herald Tribune. "A new museum on the Hudson fosters a local cultural renaissance". New York Times. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  6. ^ Jerry Saltz (January 16, 2014), Saltz on Philippe Vergne, Former DIA Head and the New L.A. MoCA Director New York Magazine.
  7. ^ Vankin, Deborah (July 10, 2015). "Obama designates Nevada area surrounding Heizer's 'City' a national monument". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  8. ^ Jori Finkel (May 15, 2011), A master works his magic on museum Los Angeles Times.
  9. ^ Govan, Michael (2012). A view from the Pacific: re-envisioning the art museum. Ivory Press. p. 5.
  10. ^ "If He Builds It, You Will Come". Wall Street Journal.
  11. ^ Edward Wyatt (February 10, 2008), To Have and Give Not New York Times.
  12. ^ Finkel, Jori (November 19, 2006). "Ceci n'est pas Magritte, but his outlook is compatibly surreal". New York Times.
  13. ^ Govan, Michael (2012). A view from the Pacific: re-envisioning the art museum. Ivory Press. pp. 10–12.
  14. ^ Knight, Christopher (August 1, 2008). "Jorge Pardo's Pre-Columbian art installation at LACMA". New York Times. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  15. ^ Miranda, Carolina (September 5, 2014). "Levitated Mass,' Doug Pray's rock doc on LACMA's epic boulder". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  16. ^ O'Hare, Maureen (December 1, 2016). "World's favorite instagram destinations for 2016". CNN. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  17. ^ Alan Zarembo and Mike Boehm (August 18, 2009), Behind Michael Govan's almost $1-million LACMA salary Los Angeles Times.
  18. ^ Mike Boehm (October 23, 2010), Michael Govan's LACMA contract renewal revealed Los Angeles Times.
  19. ^ Carol Vogel (March 7, 2013), New Proposal to Merge Art Museums in Los Angeles New York Times.
  20. ^ Nagourney, Adam (January 18, 2017). "Is this Los Angeles' 600 million dollar man?". New York Times. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  21. ^ A train wreck in slow motion? Why Lacma’s new building is an impending disaster [1]
  22. ^ Troublesome signs in LACMA’s risky reorganization plan
  23. ^ Alan Zarembo and Mike Boehm (August 18, 2009), Behind Michael Govan's almost $1-million LACMA salary Los Angeles Times.
  24. ^ Mike Boehm (January 16, 2009), LACMA director Govan is piloting prudently Los Angeles Times.

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