Michael Govan

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Humanities and Arts
Visual Arts

Michael Govan joined the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) as Chief Executive Officer and Wallis Annenberg Director in 2006. In this role, he oversees all activities of the museum, from art programming to the ambitious, multi-faceted expansion and upgrade of the museum’s seven building, 20-acre campus. During his tenure, LACMA’s annual attendance has grown from 600,000 to nearly 1.6 million in 2017, and LACMA's gallery space and programs have almost doubled. Currently the museum is in the midst of its most ambitious project, replacing four of seven museum buildings with a new state-of-the-art gallery building designed by architect Peter Zumthor.

Since his arrival at LACMA, Govan has transformed both the museum’s collection and the way it is experienced by LACMA’s audience. He has facilitated new creative interactions between living artists and the museum’s historic collections, commissioning exhibition and gallery designs in collaboration with artists John Baldessari, Jorge Pardo, and Franz West, and architects Frank O. Gehry, Fred Fisher, Michael Maltzan, Amy Murphy, Kulapat Yantrasast, and others. Govan has also orchestrated the commission and installation of the monumental artist projects throughout the museum’s campus, including Chris Burden’s Urban Light (2008), Barbara Kruger’s Untitled (Shafted) (2008), Tony Smith’s Smoke (1967; installed 2008), Robert Irwin’s Primal Palm Garden (2010), and Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass (2012).

Under Govan’s leadership, the museum has acquired by donation or purchase more than 29,000 works for the permanent collection, including the A. Jerrold Perenchio Collection of Impressionist and early 20th-century art, the most significant bequest in the museum’s history; one of the most significant private collections of the art of the Pacific Islands assembled in the 20th century; the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection of 3,500 photographs spanning the history of the medium; a collection of over 500 examples of modern European dress and accessories; 130 significant works of modern art that comprise the Lazarof Collection; and a number of individual gifts of works by Thomas Eakins, Henri Matisse, and Maruyama Ōkyo. In 2015, Govan launched the most successful art gift campaign in the museum’s history in honor of LACMA’s 50th anniversary.

Govan has also worked to diversify LACMA’s programs and audience, as well as its management and curatorial teams. Under his leadership, LACMA has begun a program to place its collections and exhibitions in underserved communities in Los Angeles County, the first adjacent to MacArthur Park in collaboration with Charles White Elementary School, with others in planning. Today, LACMA operates the largest in-school art education program of any art museum in the United States.

Known for his curatorial work as well as for his museum leadership, Govan has co-curated a series of notable exhibitions, such as Picasso and Rivera: Conversations Across Time (2016–17), James Turrell: A Retrospective (2013–14), and The Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA (2013), which presented plans for the museum’s future building designed by the Pritzker Prize–winning architect. Govan has also co-curated Dan Flavin: A Retrospective, organized by Dia in association with the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The exhibition concluded its international tour at LACMA, where it was on view during the summer of 2007.

From 1994 to 2006, Govan was president and director of Dia Art Foundation, based in New York City. There, he spearheaded the creation of the critically acclaimed 300,000-square-foot Dia:Beacon in New York’s Hudson Valley, which houses Dia’s renowned collection of contemporary art and has catalyzed an economic revival within the formerly factory-based city of Beacon. Dia’s collection nearly doubled in size during Govan’s tenure.

Prior to Dia Art Foundation, Govan served for six years as deputy director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, where he worked with the Guggenheim branches in New York, Venice, and Bilbao. In that capacity, he organized numerous major exhibitions, produced several multidisciplinary scholarly publications, and oversaw the reinstallation of the museum’s collection galleries.

Govan was born in 1963 in North Adams, Massachusetts, and was raised in the Washington D.C. area, attending Sidwell Friends School. He holds a BA in Fine Arts and Art History from Williams College, in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where he served as acting curator of the Williams College Museum of Art. Before continuing his studies in fine arts at the University of San Diego, Govan studied Baroque and Classical art and architecture in Rome, Italy. 

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