A Chilean museum shows why LACMA's Pereira buildings need replacing

Traveling to Chile to see bits of L.A.: @LACMA's Islamic collection at La Moneda Cultural Center

One in a series of dispatches by Carolina A. Miranda exploring the art and architecture of Chile.

If I needed a reminder that the wheezing William Pereira-designed buildings at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) are in need of replacement, I got one with my visit to La Moneda Cultural Center.

I went to the cultural center late last week to check out the architecture. Designed by Chilean architect Cristián Undurraga and completed in 2009, the underground destination is tucked beneath a plaza in front of the Presidential Palace in Santiago's crowded downtown. And go figure, while I was there I stumbled right into an exhibition of works from LACMA's collection of Islamic art.

And the pieces looked great.

In fact, they look better than they do at LACMA — where they're often confined to a hallway gallery in the Ahmanson Building, part of the trio of original County Museum buildings opened in 1965. (All of which would be razed in the new LACMA plan by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor.)

In my mind, the Ahmanson building has always borne an uncanny resemblance to a department store. (I should know: I worked at a Pereira-designed department store in Newport Beach as a teen.) And seeing the Islamic pieces at La Moneda only reminded me how subpar LACMA's Ahmanson Building is as a space for seeing art.

To be certain, the galleries at La Moneda aren't exactly thrilling: basic rectangular boxes designed to accommodate a wide range of shows on everything from craft to design to historical artifacts. But they are real galleries — with flexible space that allows for the easy display of both wall works and sculpture with enough square footage between vitrines to give the eyes a rest. (Especially important when it comes to absorbing the hyper-detailed Islamic works.)

I felt as if I was seeing some of LACMA's pieces for the first time. And, in fact, I was seeing some of LACMA's pieces for the first time, since the limited space at the Ahmanson doesn't allow for regular display of objects such as the Ardabil Carpet, a priceless 16th century rug from Tabriz.

I also got to see one of my favorite works from the collection: a 10th century Iranian vessel in the shape of a camel.

It's no small irony to travel all the way to South America to see things from Los Angeles. But it certainly makes the case that LACMA (and L.A.) have long outgrown those worn out Pereira buildings.

Check out the photo essay above for a tour of Undurraga's building and the LACMA exhibition.

Find me on Twitter @cmonstah. Also, I'm posting to Instagram while I'm on the road (also @cmonstah).

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