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Why a Reclusive Billionaire Decided to Give $500 Million in Art to L.A. Museum

originally posted on: Los Angeles Times by David Ng
November 06, 2014

As a junior talent agent at MCA a half-century ago, Jerry Perenchio was assigned to accompany British actor Charles Laughton as he toured the U.S. giving staged theatrical readings.

In his off-hours, Laughton wanted to visit art museums, and Perenchio went along with him. A lifelong fascination with art had begun, and as Perenchio rose in the entertainment industry — ultimately becoming chairman of Univision Communications — he used his wealth to amass some of the world’s greatest art.

At his Bel-Air home Wednesday, the 83-year-old Perenchio said that he will be giving almost all of it — at least 47 works valued at $500 million — to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

“L.A. is my home, and I wanted to leave it to a museum here,” he said.

The bequest, which would go into effect after his death, comes with one big string attached: The museum must first complete construction of its new building, which is planned for 2023. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday approved in concept a plan that would provide public financing and $125 million toward the $600-million project, although key hurdles remain before construction can begin.

Times art critic Christopher Knight said Perenchio’s bequest of works from the 19th and 20th centuries would be a significant addition to the museum’s holdings.

“The terrific paintings by Monet, Leger and Magritte, for example, will add important dimensions to canvases by those artists already in LACMA’s collection,” Knight said. “Several of the numerous works on paper are especially intriguing — the Manet portrait, a very unique mixed-media Degas. LACMA’s collection has been rather weak in Cubist art, which was critical to the whole 20th century, so early Picasso drawings like the ‘Head of Fernande’ … are a very welcome addition.”

The donation was also seen as a victory for the home team: Los Angeles. LACMA has acquired dozens of collections over the years, through gifts and purchases. But it has a loudly lamented history of losing significant art holdings that it was expected to get, including world-class collections built by Walter and Louise Arensberg and Norton Simon.

“It’s a coup for the public of Los Angeles,” said Michael Govan, the museum’s CEO and director. “LACMA could never afford to buy works of art like this. It’s an unthinkable thing at this point.”

The grandson of Italian immigrants, Perenchio grew up in Fresno and graduated from UCLA. He began his career in show business as an agent at Lew Wasserman’s MCA and later started his own talent agency.

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Photo: Claude Monet’s 1881 “The Artist’s Garden at Vethéuil” is among the donated French Impressionist works that will bolster LACMA’s holdings in that area. (Artists Rights Society, New York ADAGP,, Artists Rights Society, New York ADAGP,)

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