A couple years ago, when the art world was transfixed by a shiny, sexy version of its moneyed self, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) announced plans to build a Jeff Koons sculpture called “Train”: a 70-foot tall replica of a 1943 Baldwin hanging from a 161-foot-tall construction crane. The train would sound its horn, spin its wheels and puff smoke from its smokestack at regular intervals throughout the day. Estimated to require about $25 million to get built, “Train” will be one of the most expensive works ever commissioned by a museum. If it gets built. It was originally scheduled to be completed by 2011 or 2012, but recently LACMA officials told the L.A. Times that it wouldn’t be ready until 2014.
That might have something to do with the fact that the museum’s financial situation, which it announced last week, isn’t what it was in 2007 (surprise!). The value of LACMA’s investments are down 23 percent, and donations fell from $129 million to $29 million in the last year. And in light of the museum’s $74.1 million annual operating budget, spending $25 million on a big shiny toy train seems, well, crazy. And in case LACMA’s money problems seem like a distant problem, New York’s biggest museum is in the red too: the Met recently released its annual report for 2009, and the museum is operating with an $8.4 million budget deficit. If any wealthy oligarchs looking for tax breaks are reading this, donate now! (The rest of you, visit a museum.)