BCAM's huge elevator has its ups and downs

Times Staff Writer

When the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Broad Contemporary Art Museum opened in February, one of the architectural centerpieces of Renzo Piano's building was the enormous glass-enclosed elevator that showcases artist Barbara Kruger’s three-story, red, black and white elevator shaft installation, "Untitled (Shafted)."

The design was intended to allow museum visitors to enter the lift -- 21 feet wide, 16 feet high and 9 feet deep -- and experience Kruger's 86-foot-tall graphic made up of quotes and phrases as the elevator ascended and descended.

But shortly before BCAM opened, the elevator stalled during preview tours. It was tested against its planned specifications and found to be "underpowered in terms of design," said LACMA President Melody Kanschat.

So, after operating at reduced capacity, the elevator was shut down last month.

The museum had worked with inspectors from the city's Department of Building and Safety after the problem first emerged to come up with a stopgap solution: a rectangular framework of metal rails inside the elevator that would distribute passenger weight evenly. That created a perimeter area of standing room, curtailing the elevator's full 24,000-pound capacity by nearly half, said museum spokeswoman Allison Agsten.

It also confused patrons. "We had a lot of people speculating that the railing was part of an art project," Kanschat said. Others wanted to know if it "was to keep people in or keep people out."

Young children weren't at all confused: They recognized the railing's jungle gym potential and put that to use. Of course, security guards would explain the weight distribution factor to anyone who asked.

"There's a new piston that's going in, and it will be able to take the weight as it was originally designed," Kanschat said.

After inspections at the end of this month, the elevator will reopen sans railing, and "we'll be ready to roll" by June 1.



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