By on July 19, 2013


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.


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17 Comments on “Petersen Museum Responds To LA Times: “Absolutely Incorrect”, “Big Misrepresentation” – Museum Will Not Refocus To Bikes and French Cars...”

  • avatar

    Anybody else having trouble with the intent and syntax of this… “and the effect the automobile has had on car culture worldwide”… “has had on Cultures worldwide’

  • avatar

    “We figured that, by releasing the news that we are shifting our focus to bikes French cars on the same day that the City of Detroit declared bankruptcy we would be able to avoid automotive press coverage. A little bit of the bury the release. Little did we know TTAC would cover the bike and French car thing instead.”

  • avatar

    “The[y] will also continue to have one of the most comprehensive collection of alternative fuel vehicles of any car museum in North America.”

    Yea, like that was Mr. Petersen’s dream…

    Go ahead and start the “Petersen museum death watch”.

    Or, to keep it running, go back through all the Petersen publications to the roots (starts in 1947) and inventory every vehicle featured therein. Buy, or better get on loan, as many of those as possible for rotating displays. The third week of each month unveil a new batch with fanfare.

    Sitting down? Those that are no longer with us, I’m talking about you “Alki Kart”, commission a replica.

    Five years from now the museum will still be presenting vehicles that were featured in the Petersen publications.

    BTW, you can shove your “immersion”. We don’t need that. Disney can have it.

    • 0 avatar

      Visited the Museum when in LA the first time. Nice little Museum, interesting , alternate displays donated by collectors. Like the superb Duesenberg collection that was a short term exhibit.
      Go to the La Brea tarpits,Art Gallery and Museum in one day.

  • avatar

    Perhaps I’m just dense but what the eff do motorcycles have to do w/the automotive experience?

    And I’m truly curious,do they have British and German cars or are planing to acquire some to go w/the French ones?

  • avatar

    uh, those weren’t “prepared talking points,” that was a fairly detailed response.

    TTAC is better than this.

    at least I hope it is.

  • avatar

    They are perhaps not “talking points” per se, but they are mostly babble that is designed to make everyone read into it what each one desires.

  • avatar

    Older Boomer ‘car guys’ have to realize younger generation isn’t only interested in 1955-72 nostalgia and seeing endless rows of red ’69 Camaros.

    • 0 avatar

      Have you actually been to the Peterson? I have, and I don’t recall seeing a Camaro anywhere in the place. What I do remember seeing are Cadzilla, a couple Ed Roth customs, one of the two original Black Beauty Imperials, one of the nine remaining Chrysler Turbines, and some other very notable vehicles.

      Displaying recently built hot rods and customs, especially award winners, and also bringing out (and restoring as necessary) some of the historically significant vehicles in the collection, would keep the museum content fresh and still focused. Branching out to cars from all over the world sounds like a mistake to me. I want to go back to the Peterson some day, and I don’t want to see foreign cars or motorcycles there.

  • avatar

    Does anyone on here know how other kinds of museums maintain collections? (Art museums, for example.)

    Do they just keep acquiring works, never selling any off, or do they rotate what they have? Obviously it’s easier to store 400 paintings than 400 cars. While they do need to have climate control, they don’t need maintenance, and take up much less space.

    • 0 avatar

      Most museums and libraries deaccession items from their collections from time to time most of the time they will say it is done because they lack proper storage, or they lack the space to exhibit, or they lack the resources to maintain and or conserve the items….
      I have always deplored this approach to running these sorts of places and have felt that if a place accepts a donation of of something they could have either required that it come with funds to endow said display and maintenance and conservation in perpetuity or had a fund raiser ath the time of the acquisition to provide those funds for that item.

      To me the sight of local libraries sending off old books, newspapers and periodicals to be pulped just because no one had accessed them for some arbitrary length of time is a crime against knowledge . It turns my stomach to see this loss of knowledge of local affairs which are unlikely to exist elsewhere.

      But the sad fact is that very very few places of this sort have the needed endowments, space, or will to act at true repositories of our history in all its many forms.

  • avatar

    THIS IS KEY ==> “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 ”

    So, what they’ve done here is give themselves a blank check to get out of that oily, smelly car bidness, and into the artsy-fartsy end of things. Expect operating budgets to go through the roof, with the associated endless fund raising and loss of focus (despite their claims, because what are they going to say, right?). Expect to see Christo wrapping cars, or perhaps “artistic expressions” of cars – say “Car from Accident Site”, or “Car Burned to Crisp” (IIRC, that’s been done before, but I can’t find it).

    It’s all so sad…

    • 0 avatar

      I’m sorry, but I’ve been in the shop where Peter Mullin is having a body built for his Bugatti 64 chassis and I have to disagree. The man loves cars and there’s no way that I could see him doing any of the performance or conceptual ‘art’ things you mentioned at the Petersen.

      There’s a movement among car and automobile art collectors, admittedly well-healed collectors, to get cars and the artwork associated with cars and car culture to be regarded as fine art. Yes, they have a financial interest in doing so, but mostly it’s because they think that the art associated with the automobile is worthy and should not be looked down upon by the fine art world. Frederic Sharf has been doing it with original drawings and paintings from automotive styling studios. Mullin’s doing it with Bugattis and other French classics at his Oxnard museum. It’s hardly a new idea, fans of prewar classics have been calling them “rolling sculpture” for decades (that’s an interesting idea for research project, btw, the origin of that term regarding great cars).

      I think it’s more of a case of demanding respect for the car’s contribution to art than it is a case of kissing up to the fine art world.

  • avatar

    Thanks, Ronnie, for a cogent response to the above comment.

    One also has to consider the amount of automotive/transportation design that gos on in the LA area, and that nearly every major international automobile company has a design studio in SoCal.

    The Blackhawk is full of auto related art and has even featured the vehicle design process and student work from the Art Center School of Design, an LA school. The show include student concept renderings, to cad modeling, clay modeling and finished models.

    The Seattle Art Museum has 5 or 6 Taurus’s hanging from its entry hall ceiling. A very entertaining conceptual work based on the Auto.

    Automotive art has a place in automotive museums, not just buried out in a field in Texas.

    Regards… Tre

    • 0 avatar

      You say Fords hanging from the hall ceiling? Nothing ‘new art’ about that. It was done in 1933, at Ford’s pavilion at the 1933 Century of Progress exposition in Chicago. They made a chandelier of three full size Fords hung from the ceiling. Chevrolet, though, had the most impressive display. They set up an actual assembly line in a building with a catwalk for viewers to watch the cars being assembled. People could even arrange to take delivery at the expo.

      More info and pics here:

      PS. I’d say that some automotive art has a place in regular art museums, not just automotive museums. The MoMA in NYC has a Cisitalia 202 on permanent disply.

      Also, I know that a lot of car designers try their hands (literally) at fine art. Camillo Pardo, who did the Ford GT, has had shows of his paintings, and Howard Mook, has too.

  • avatar

    Don’t recall mentioning anything about the concept being new.

    I also mentioned and linked to the Cisitalia at MoMA, in a previous comment on one of the recent postings on Museums.

    Yes, automotive designers are artists, first. I own some significant art from American and European auto designers/stylists, included in the collection are works by Bill Mitchell, Buehrig, Lowry, Michelotti, Pinin Farina, and Teague, just to name a few.

    ” Saw my first Cisitalia coupe there(Blackhawk). The Cisitalia was among the first automobiles to be put on display at the MoMA, and the only automobile to be put on permanent display in the Museum of Modern Art/NY.”

    “If you all don’t know the significance of Pinin Farina’s Cisitalia design on modern car design, check it out. >“

  • avatar

    Three Significant Corvette Concepts Heading To LeMay Car Museum.

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