Petersen Museum Responds To LA Times: "Absolutely Incorrect", "Big Misrepresentation" – Museum Will Not Refocus To Bikes and French Cars

TTAC Staff
by TTAC Staff
petersen museum responds to la times absolutely incorrect big misrepresentation

Yesterday, we ran a News Blog post relating the LA Times report that the Petersen Museum was selling off 1/3rd of its collection to focus on motorcycles and French cars from the Art Deco period. Now, the museum has responded with vigorous denials, saying that the newspaper was wrong about what is really planned for the facility. Following our publication of that post, the Petersen’s PR rep reached out to TTAC, offering to share information that they say is more accurate. She called the LA Times story “a pretty big misrepresentation” and supplied us with prepared talking points (below) on the vehicle sales, the museum renovations and a response to the LAT article. In an interview with Jalopnik’s Jason Torchinsky, museum director Terry Karges said that the Times’ headline, “Petersen Automotive Museum Takes A Major Detour” was “absolutely incorrect.” Karges, who is in the motorcycle business and used to race bikes, denied that his own personal interest in motorbikes, or museum Chairman Peter Mullin’s interest in French classics will affect the collection at the Petersen.

Well curated collections change over time. That point is raised whenever there’s talk of selling off a major collection like in Detroit, where the city’s municipal bankruptcy has prompted calls to sell off artwork in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts or the significant cars that were donated to the Detroit Historical Museum. Every museum has items in storage that may never be displayed. As one Petersen board member put it, “Never changing turns us into an accumulation rather than a collection.”

Karges told Jalopnik that the money raised by the sale isn’t just going to acquire different cars. The building, originally an Orbach’s department store, was not designed to be a car museum. Major renovations will remove some interior walls and reposition others. The museum’s complete interior will be renovated with more interactive exhibits. This means that if you want to see the collection, you might want to do so before the construction starts as no announcement was made if the public is going to have access to the collection during renovations.

Karges described some of the improvements, “… we’re working with some ex-Disney creatives and we’re talking about opportunities of what we can do to immerse people in, say, the experience of racing. Art museums have things on the walls, but you sit in a car and you feel a car. A car is like wearing your personality.”

According to the people who run the museum, there will be a greater emphasis on education, in partnership with Pasadena’s ArtCenter college of design. The collection will still be diverse and look at car culture from a variety of perspectives, with a continued focus on hot rod culture of Southern California. The will also continue to have one of the most comprehensive collection of alternative fuel vehicles of any car museum in North America.

The museum’s management says that the ultimate goal is for the Petersen Museum to be one of the best art and design museums in the world, art and design in the medium of things automotive, not just a great car collection (and not just focused on motorcycles and French cars).

Petersen Museum official statement below:

The Los Angeles Times ran an article on July 16, 2013, titled “ Petersen Automotive Museum Makes Major Detour.” We believe that this article was a direct misrepresentation of our intentions for the museum, leading readers, automotive enthusiasts and car collectors to believe that we are not only abandoning Robert E. Petersen’s vision for the museum, but turning our back on showcasing Southern California car culture. To be clear, there has never been any intent to detour from our mission statement as laid out by Mr. Petersen, nor any intention to focus the museum solely on French cars and motorcycles as depicted in the story. It is also important to note that those quoted in the article were a previous intern from many years ago and a former director (not credible sources). Please note the following key points:

Long Term Board Members:

  • This is not a new board taking over the museum. Peter Mullin, the current Chairman of the board has previously served as Chairman, Bruce Meyer the Co-Vice Chairman served as Chairman of the board for ten years and David Sydorick, Co-Vice Chairman has been on the board since the museum’s inception in 1994. These three men were not only personal friends of Robert E. Petersen, they helped lay out the original mission for the museum.

Expanding our Mission:

  • The Petersen is expanding on the our mission to showcase not only Southern California car culture, but also global car culture and the effect the automobile has had on car culture worldwide. Southern California car culture will not be abandoned—nor will Robert E. Petersen’s original vision.

Culling our Collection:

  • The collection has reached over 400 pieces—not only are we unable to showcase all of the vehicles, but maintaining and keeping that many cars in running order is virtually impossible. We are culling the collection for the first time in nearly 20 years, selling cars that can easily be replaced for specific exhibits or vehicles that were donated which were never intended to be or counted a part of the collection or placed on exhibit.

Not a French Car or Motorcycle Museum:

  • To accomplish our expanding mission, in addition to culling the collection, we will also be restoring vehicles in the collection and are in search of new additions –specifically those that are important Los Angeles historical cars. Will we own and exhibit hot rods? Yes. French cars? Yes. Motorcycles? Yes. Pre-wars cars, modern supercars, vintage exotics, trucks, alternative fuel powered vehicles…? Yes, yes yes… you get the point. Same as we ever have, but more and better.

Careful Selection:

  • Everyone has a favorite car, everyone has an opinion on what the most significant car is—we can’t run a museum that way. Our skilled curatorial team has determined what cars should go, what cars should stay, and what cars we hope to acquire moving forward. Attached is a list of cars currently in the collection. As you can see, none of our “crown jewels” are leaving, again, we’re simply culling the collection. To quote a board member, “Never changing turns us into an accumulation rather than a collection.”

Transforming our Museum:

  • Our plans do include transforming the museum—improving it from the inside out. The building was built as a department store, not a museum, and has not been updated in twenty years.
  • More information to come at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, August 18th unveil.
Join the conversation
2 of 17 comments