The Redesign of LACMA: An Change | by Michael Govan


In response to:

The Demolition of LACMA: Art Sacrificed to Architecture,” October 2, 2020

To the Editor:

Assessment readers ought to know that Joseph Giovannini’s article is as inaccurate as his many others on the identical matter.

Removed from representing a discount in exhibition house, LACMA’s new constructing designed by Peter Zumthor, the David Geffen Galleries, is the ultimate piece of a two decades-long enlargement plan that successfully doubles the museum’s gallery house and replaces its ailing, nonfunctional amenities. The campus venture as a complete, together with three new buildings constructed between 2008 and 2023, includes 220,000 sq. toes of galleries, making LACMA by far the most important artwork museum within the western United States. This large achievement for Los Angeles is being made potential by a whole bunch of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} in personal contributions from native sources.

Most necessary, Peter Zumthor and a whole bunch of museum design consultants have formed this new constructing to signify a ahead leap in making artwork museums extra accessible, and extra conscious of our guests, who need a extra inclusive, non-hierarchical artwork historical past. 

Sadly, Giovannini refuses to acknowledge the essence of Zumthor’s scheme for the exhibition ground, during which not one of the house is wasted in circulation. Greater than fifty galleries will serve our assortment not based on the classes of nineteenth-century artwork historical past however consistent with the character of sunshine the artworks require. Pointing to twenty-six “core” galleries that may present full gentle management for artistic endeavors which might be particularly fragile, Giovannini pretends that these are the one exhibition areas within the constructing. He ignores the opposite kinds of galleries that supply the completely different gentle circumstances required for various artworks and that had been particularly requested by the museum. However way more of the house is dedicated to the bigger variety of artworks that may thrive within the pure gentle and shadow offered by inside “courtyard” galleries and perimeter “terrace” galleries. It will likely be refreshing to expertise artwork in its finest gentle and never be misplaced in what beforehand was a rabbit warren of smaller, darkish areas that leaked when it rained.

Our curators are already laborious at work crafting a whole bunch of proposals that may use these new areas to current various elements of our huge artwork collections. It’s true, we’re going to shake up artwork historical past somewhat, for the higher: to be extra inclusive, extra egalitarian, and to permit extra of our artworks to be seen over time in slowly altering installations. We’ll set up our collections in ways in which replicate the most effective scholarship of the current. Our lovely artworks can inform many tales, not only one that represents the restrictions of colonial pondering.

Los Angeles has all the time been keen to guide artwork and structure into the longer term. We’re doing that now. It’s thrilling, and it’s significant, given the help of our county and metropolis leaders, who reviewed the venture completely over a four-year, in depth public assessment interval, and the keenness of the numerous people who find themselves asking museums to assume otherwise. (It needs to be famous that in citing the petition drive in opposition to our new constructing, Giovannini is reporting on a venture that was, the truth is, his personal initiative.) Luckily, LACMA’s new constructing is now underneath development, and in 4 years the proof of what we’re doing can be there for all to see.

Michael Govan
Chief Govt Officer and Wallis Annenberg Director, Los Angeles County Museum of Artwork


Joseph Giovannini replies:

Michael Govan, director of one of the vital complete museums in America, is presiding over an unprecedented destruction of information—a wholesale dump—whereas erasing the cultural identification of the very constituencies represented within the collections he purports to help. His too-small alternative constructing is forcing the collections into storage, by no means once more to be seen as collections however as bits and items in theme reveals, banishing our bodies of information that generations of curators have constructed. These are not “colonial” collections, as he dismissively claims. They’re scholarly. They’re artistic endeavors formed by consultants over time into cohesive, natural wholes. And as particular person collections representing over a dozen cultures, they painting centuries of cultural accomplishment that come to life and into that means when seen collectively, artworks commenting on each other.

The Zumthor plan is undoing the collections underneath cowl of a poorly digested, piously offered poststructuralist argument concerning the worth of cultural fairness in a museum. A extra inclusive, non-hierarchical artwork historical past is actually a worthy purpose that may be utilized to any museum. However Govan’s critique of LACMA’s collections as expressions of a retardataire, culturally prejudiced, hopelessly Eurocentric establishment are unsubstantiated by the collections themselves, that are the truth is culturally various and correspond to segments of LA’s many cultures. Sending them into the anonymity of storage strips them of their range as cultural artifacts. They lose content material and context.

The answer at LACMA might have been a course correction, not demolition—smart, artistic, even daring changes to the collections by addition, all inside an expanded constructing whose adaptive re-use would have proved sustainably sensible as a substitute of profligate. Don’t blame the outdated buildings. Based on my sources, the leaks and buckets that Govan cites as justification for the demolition of buildings “past restore” had been brought on by intentionally suspended upkeep. He prompted the issue he claimed to be fixing.

However even when a brand new museum had been essential, or simply desired as a renewal increasing into the longer term, a brand new design that labored with, reasonably than in opposition to, the collections themselves ought to have been the purpose. Frank Gehry began the design of Disney Corridor from the journey of sound from the orchestra. At LACMA, the collections ought to have been the place to begin for the design, not an afterthought that doesn’t match. The architectural answer was both to reconfigure the present buildings or to design a brand new constructing whereas holding expanded, refreshed collections intact in a bigger new constructing.

Govan basically calls the details in my articles “pretend information.” The audited outcomes of forensic research finished by two unbiased architectural teams show that the entire constructing is 123,500 sq. toes smaller than these demolished. The figures under, a few of which appeared in my authentic article, are actually supported right here with related paperwork. These are details primarily based on LACMA’s personal authentic and just lately filed drawings.


The plans under proper present that the Zumthor plan replaces 384,000 sq. toes of authentic buildings with a constructing with 261,000 sq. toes. Unbelievably, he’s changing 115 galleries within the outdated buildings with 25 packing containers within the new (that’s, 27,000 sq. toes of gallery house, as a substitute of 138,000 sq. toes, or 80 p.c much less). He calls them “homes,” bizarrely advocating the museum as some type of suburb of indifferent properties. He has invented an inflationary PR time period, “meander gallery,” to use to the 83,000 sq. toes of leftover corridors, or facet yards, that will extra actually be known as junk house. These are slim corridors like hallways in a home main again to the bedrooms—entrance lobbies, elevator lobbies, rest room lobbies, and different unintentional areas. Like somebody quoting the Bible for his functions, Govan cites “pure gentle” as justification for leftover corridors he calls, in one other inflationary time period, “courtyard galleries” and “terrace galleries.”

Virtually all of those areas, particularly the perimeter hall glassed on one facet, are topic to elevated ranges of pure gentle severely proscribing what could be proven, and due to this fact limiting what could be flaunted to a vastly diminished choice of objects, largely sculpture. He has already dumped the collections, and now cuts by half what could be safely proven from the retired collections. Based on one curator, the museum doesn’t even have that a lot sculpture.

Nor can Govan significantly rely as inside museum house—as he tries to—some 65,000 sq. toes of outside house underneath the elevated stomach and cantilevered roof of the constructing simply because it’s lined. That is how landlords rely house. The whole plans and sq. footages are displayed under:



Govan avoids a direct comparability between the dimensions of the buildings demolished and their alternative as a result of his numbers are indefensible, and so he asks us as a substitute to have a look at what occurred on the campus at giant over an extended timeframe. However even underneath this premise, we’re taking a look at a dramatic lack of house on his watch. Govan is aware of completely nicely however fails to say—in a handy bout of amnesia—that he misplaced 266,000 sq. toes of viable museum house when he forfeited the previous Might Firm constructing to a hundred-year lease at 10 cents a sq. foot (rents on Wilshire are about $4.50 a sq. foot). He had over-extended his price range by constructing the Resnick Pavilion going into the 2009 disaster, and risked a credit-rating downgrade. A earlier constructing that he counts in his numbers, the Broad Up to date Artwork Museum, was initiated and funded by Andrea Wealthy, the earlier director, so he can’t declare that as his achievement.

So, as a substitute of a complete acquire of sq. footage on his watch, the whole museum sq. footage truly misplaced is 344,000 sq. toes. This graph under reveals a discount of house on an epic scale unmatched in American museum historical past: Govan turned black into purple, acquire into loss. Sadly, the chart of losses resembles Donald Trump’s revenue historical past throughout his on line casino interval.


Govan is aware of, from his expertise as deputy director engaged on the Bilbao Guggenheim because it was constructed, that structure can outline the picture of an establishment and form it. At LACMA, nonetheless, in a perversion of structure’s common function as a constructive agent, he’s utilizing structure to dismantle the very belongings that established the museum’s stature. He degrades a rating museum that earlier than his arrival was on the verge of greatness, providing solely a straw-man argument about “colonialism” to justify the constructing of an inefficient, land-guzzling, inappropriate, wildly costly construction that, regardless of the PR hype, is, within the closing evaluation, solely mediocre as design and extremely dysfunctional as a constructing. He made the error of hiring an architect inexperienced at this scale, who was clearly working out of his depth.

I’m glad that Govan mentions the petition, signed by 12,000 residents, that I helped set up as a matter of civic responsibility. This was one in every of two unbiased petitions whose mixed lists complete 16,000 residents, as I discussed in my article, who’re against the constructing. The numbers inform the story that issues: this is among the most unpopular civic buildings ever proposed for the town of Los Angeles. Neither do the collections want it, nor do Angelenos need it. This constructing is an imposition of directorial will and ego, a uncooked instance of constructing “structure” for the sake of spectacle. Govan needed to fee the equal of a Bilbao Guggenheim, and Los Angeles is paying for a spectacular failure with its collections.

That is additionally America’s loss. A museum of cultural scope that embraced the world now guarantees to turn into a provincial suburb.

The answer for Govan and his too-compliant board is to appropriate an issue of their very own creation by shelving the Zumthor design and holding a contest for an additional plan.



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