Pontus Hulten, the museum director who launched the futuristic and controversial Centre de Georges Pompidou in Paris and for the past 15 months has been in Los Angeles directing the yet-to-be-built Museum of Contemporary Art, will give up that position to organize the arts and cultural program for the 1989 World's Fair in Paris, it was announced yesterday in Los Angeles.
The offer of the new position only 15 months after he took on the L.A. project came directly from French President Francois Mitterrand, Hulten said yesterday. "Obviously I could not reject such an offer," he added.
Hulten, a world-renowned figure who organized major exhibits -- including "Paris-New York," "Paris-Berlin" and "Paris-Moscow" from 1977 to 1980 -- during his stint at the Pompidou Centre (known as the Beaubourg) -- apparently encountered personal acrimony between board members in Los Angeles during his brief directorship. He had been brought in to start the museum from scratch, as he did with the Pompidou Centre and Moderna Museet in Stockholm. The Los Angeles controversy reportedly centered on the museum's architecture.
Hulten will continue his association with the Los Angeles museum on a part-time basis under the title of founding director. Richard Koshalek, who is now deputy director and chief curator, will assume the museum directorship. It was also announced that the museum's temporary quarters, "Temporary Contemporary" as it will be called, will open next October.
Walter Hopps, one-time director of the Corcoran Museum and Washington Gallery of Contemporary Art, who is now directing the Menil collection in Houston -- said yesterday, "His Hulten's vision was to see a museum that could look at the second half of 20th-century art as authoritatively as the Museum of Modern Art had at the first half of this century. To do so with such scale and grandeur requires someone of his instincts and experiences. Not to have the individual and undivided energies of Pontus Hulten is an enormous loss to this country."
Hulten, a Swede noted for his revolutionary view of museums as popular gathering places, said that, "Generally speaking, things have gone well. We had quite a dispute over the architecture. It involved a misunderstanding between members of the board and the architect, Arata Isozaki."
Robert Irwin, one of the artists sitting on the board, resigned during his tenure. It is unusual for a museum to elect an artist to its board, and Irwin, a leading California artist noted for his work with light, proved why this is so.
"Artists are usually men of strong principles, unwilling and unaccustomed to compromise. Irwin, unlike most of us, works alone," said Hulten.
The plans for the new museum, which have been extensively reworked, are "99 percent approved," according to board president William Kieschnick, pending approval from local authorities. A construction date has not yet been set.
Yesterday's announcement came in a press release issued by Kieschnick, who is also president and chief executive officer of Atlantic Richfield Co., and Eli Broad, board of trustees chairman.
Hulten, 57, is an exceptional museum man who started in his native Sweden in 1953, and upheld a vision of the ideal museum through the ensuing years: "I think all museums are disinfecting art. They are always disinfecting it, this is their role. Some people like this temple aspect of the museum. I don't," he said yesterday.
His best-known exhibition in this country was "The Machine -- As Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age," which he did for New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1968.