Rosamund Felsen on Norton Simon and the Pasadena Art Museum

Rosamund Felsen, who was once Curator of Prints at the Pasadena Art Museum, discusses the importance and ambitious programming of the museum in the 1960s, and its subsequent failure in the early 1970s, in this interview conducted by Anne Ayres for the Archives of American Art. When asked about the reasons for the museum’s closure and the role of philanthropist Norton Simon, Felsen recalls, “I think there was a great deal of naiveté about this museum. The Pasadena folks and all the people involved…they all wanted it to grow and develop, but they didn’t make the correct financial arrangements for it. There was no endowment. Times were changing and things were growing very quickly, and things were getting much more expensive. Their programming was getting more and more ambitious. It used to be that when the museum was short of cash, Bob Rowan or whoever else, Gifford Phillips, would reach in their pockets and “Oh, here’s some extra money for you,” you know. But that was no longer possible. So I think it just caved in because of this naive attitude. So Norton Simon, of course— […} Coincidentally. I remember going to a dinner party at Marcia Weisman’s, and Norton was there. This was before the collapse. She had her Jasper Johns map painting hanging in the dining room. Everyone else at the party was in another room, but Sid [Felsen] and I and Norton found ourselves standing in her dining room alone, and Norton was looking at this painting. I tried to engage him in conversation about it, and he had no interest in this painting whatsoever. Later I talked to Marcia about this, and she said never, ever talk to Norton about art that was made after World War I. That’s what she said. […] Norton had long been looking for a place for his collection—I guess he had tried to do something with LACMA, and that didn’t work out. He had had some major sculptures on loan for some time at the Pasadena Art Museum, so when the museum went to him for help he said, “Well, I can help you. I’ll take over your debts for you; I’ll take over all the debts for you if you let me take over the collection in the museum, and you won’t have any further responsibilities there.” I mean, this went on for—there was lots of going back and forth, but that’s how it ended up.” Continue reading at the link below: