December 27, 2007
LACMA gets contemporary
(Page 2 - Previous Page)From the grand entrance, one takes an escalator that snakes along the outside of BCAM to its top floor (reminiscent of the Pompidou Center, or to inject a local reference, the Beverly Center). BCAM has 60,000 square feet of exhibition space arranged on three floors, in two wings, with a glass core elevator between them the size of a New York studio apartment.
For the inaugural exhibit and for most of the first year, BCAM will focus on artists that the Broads have collected in depth, exhibiting more than 200 works from the Broad Foundation and the Broads' personal collection, including works by such artists as John Baldessari, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Roy Lichtenstein and Jeff Koons. The ground floor will offer two Richard Serra sculptures, one from LACMA's collection and one loaned by the artist.
As part of Phase I, the Ahmanson building is also being renovated. At the same time, the collection will be reorganized and re-installed not only to showcase highlights from the permanent collection, including some of 130 works by modern masters recently donated by Janice and Henri Lazarof, but also to feature the depth of LACMA's collection in South American, African and Asian art. The former building for modern and contemporary art will become the Art of the Americas building.
Phase II of Piano's transformation will address the May Co. building or LACMA West, as it's now called, as well as building a new free-standing, single-story glass building behind BCAM for temporary exhibitions.
Phase III, which really is in the planning stage and several years off, would address the existing LACMA campus and attempt to reorganize and rethink the displays in those buildings in relation to renovations done in Phases I and II.
Impressive? Yes. But in the spirit of Christmas, (or for my Judeo-centric friends, in the spirit of Charles Dickens) let me say: "Bah, humbug!"
There is something that rubs me the wrong way about this "transformation." The more I thought about it and the order of these "phases," the more it struck me that the logical order was reversed: Shouldn't Phase III, the rethinking of the present campus come first? And why start by building a whole new building devoted to recent art, instead of the current collection and the Lazaroff's newly donated Picassos? Is that modernist collection not as worthy of showcasing as the contemporary works (if not more)? To the extent that LACMA is faulted for being a jumble of buildings, is Phase I a "transformation" or just an addition?
Or, let me put it this way: The fact that Eli and Edythe Broad and the Broad Art Foundation launched the campaign with their $60 million gift, and that Phase I begins with the opening of something called the Broad Museum (not the Broad building or Broad galleries) filled with art that either Broad owns or that he collects (thereby raising the value of his collection or of the artists he collects) bothers me.
Broad has been coy about bequests of his own collection to the museum -- he will no doubt, in time, donate many works. However at press time, Broad is merely loaning works to the museum, and no agreement has been reached. Nonetheless, he will also be increasing the value of the works he owns and therefore the value of any tax benefit he would receive, should he gift any of the works.
It begs the question of whether donors and collectors, in general and in specific, and the whole inflated contemporary art market are driving the agenda of the museum, putting an inordinate emphasis on art of the last few decades. Why not leave that to other museums and galleries (MOCA, the Hammer)? Is focusing on the art that the present monied class collects, buys and sells in so extravagant a fashion pandering for their interest and support? Does the fiddler call the tune? Or is it the man who owns the fiddle?
Finally, in so far as Broad's own collection reflects his taste as much as that of his art advisers, isn't this new renovation a collection of other people's ideas used already elsewhere? An escalator up the outside of the building, glass elevators exposed to the outdoors, a Robert Irwin garden, a temporary contemporary exhibit hall -- are these distinctive, original ideas? They do nothing to address the present original campus and everything to shmeichel the Broads.
But that is just my being Scrooge.
Several people I spoke to in the art world have high hopes for LACMA's new director, Michael Govan, and for LACMA, believing BCAM and the Broads' support to be essential to revitalizing the institution.
Moreover, when I turned to Lyn Zelevansky, LACMA curator of contemporary art, she cheerily swatted away my objections.
"LACMA," Zelevansky said, is "the people's museum." Located in Mid-Wilshire, she believes it is the museum most Angelenos have access to and grow up with. Also, as a "general museum," it has, Zelevansky said, "a broad audience and our mission is to engage." She believes the BCAM and its emphasis on contemporary art "makes us [LACMA] better."
As Zelevansky sees it, the issue for LACMA was quite simple: "We just really ran out of space."
As for the current frenzy in the art market, Zelevansky said, "The escalation of prices is an ongoing problem."
I'll say. The entire $200 million Phase I transformation would only buy two Picassos, if that.