Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Why Demolishing Most of the LACMA Campus Makes No Sense - UPDATE!

In this morning's LA Times,  Christopher Hawthorne has an excellent summary of the soon to be unveiled plan to demolish four buildings of the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art and replace them with one huge glass walled structure along Wilshire Boulevard.

                                   Original Design
In my opinion, though, tearing down the original complex of LACMA is a mistake that will be regretted by later generations. Just as the once much maligned Music Center of the same era has weathered far better architecturally than the buildings of Lincoln Center, the original three buildings of LACMA - immortalized in Ruscha's famous painting, LACMA on Fire, are now excellent examples of the architecture of that era.  They are also a part of the civic and cultural history of Los Angeles during the time LA began to emerge as a major center for contemporary art. 
                                                 Current View of Ahmanson Building
And even while a large part of the hostility towards the buildings was - and is - due to the admittedly tragic decision to not hire Ludwig Mies van der Rohe as the project's architect, that does not mean making another mistake is the solution.
                                                     Current View of Bing Center Building
A far bigger problem is the urban planning aspect of the project. Replacing four buildings with one huge monolithic glass wall facing Wilshire Boulevard - looming one story above the sidewalk - will not only continue but extend the problem created by the 1986 Richard Anderson Building.

                                                          Another Current View of Ahmanson
The final objection is that after spending $450 million for this building - LACMA will still have the same square footage as it does today.  It adds no space.  In fact, with the recent – albeit brilliant - move of turning the May Company into a film museum, the combined projects will create a net loss of gallery space.

And here is the opening of Christopher Hawthorne's article

Director Michael Govan turns to Swiss architect Peter Zumthor for a dramatic new building that would involve demolishing the main museum campus.
Next month LACMA will publicly unveil a $650-million plan by Pritzker Prize winner Peter Zumthor for a dramatic new museum building along Wilshire Boulevard.
In scope and ambition, the Zumthor plan is reminiscent of a proposal by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas that would have razed the main museum campus and replaced it with a collection of low-slung gallery buildings under a giant, tent-like translucent roof. The LACMA board approved that project in 2001, but after fundraising struggles museum officials dropped the effort less than two years later.Museum Director Michael Govan is convinced he can help the latest design avoid a similar fate. He has worked since his arrival at LACMA in 2006 to groom a new generation of donors and enlarge the museum's board, which he believes is now ready to launch a $650-million capital campaign to finance the new building. The construction cost is estimated to be at least $450 million, with the remaining $200 million earmarked for expenses including contingencies and operations.
And you can read the rest at the LAT's website.

AND - in response to Karl Dahlquist's answer to my semi-rhetorical question of why LA destroys its cultural landmarks  - "Because no one is from here?'  - here was my response on Facebook:

You hit the nail on the head! No one involved in this project can recall when they first saw Ruscha's painting of LACMA on Fire - or can still recall the exact spot where they saw Kienholz's Back Seat Dodge '38 (which I got to see despite being only 17) or can recall looking at the still fresh white paint that covered the spay painted names of the artists of ASCO - one of whom lives just down the street from my office and all of whom went on to having an important impact upon both the LA - and the international art worlds. On sadder notes, there are those of us who can still recall where the once great California impressionist collection was shown in depth - before it was dumped for almost nothing when it was deemed unfashionable - and where great local collections had been shown before they ended up dispersed at auction sales.

And you better believe that no one pushing for this ever grew up seeing the only general art collection in the city when it was housed in the Natural History Museum. I was in the 6th grade when I first noticed that there were paintings in the Natural History Museum. But when I saw names such as Rembrandt attached to them - I naturally assumed by there being in this type of environment - and some paintings were hung in hallways and stair landings - they must be copies.

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