Southern Californians have strong feelings about LACMA’s teardown plan
Thank you for Carolina Miranda’s thorough analysis of the LACMA project [“Can LACMA Afford Building?” Feb. 23]. It’s clear that she put a lot of research into providing that level of detail. The comparison of debt levels at other organizations provides an important context for considering LACMA’s numbers, even though the financial discussion might at first appear technical.
For the record:
2:24 p.m. March 4, 2020A letter responding to The Times’ coverage of the LACMA redesign was signed by Roger Newell of San Diego. His wife, Susan Newell, actually wrote the letter, which was submitted by her husband under his name.
I also came away with the sense that people on both sides of the controversy were listened to and reported on.
Finally, I’m impressed that the L.A. Times gave the story the space it needed and the visibility it deserves. This kind of reporting is what is so sorely needed as news outlets shrink or vanish. Commendations to Miranda for excellent journalism.
Re: “LACMA Loses a Major Donor” by Christopher Knight [ Feb. 26]: No major museum displays only a few classic paintings at a time around a “theme” while storing the rest. Can you imagine the Louvre or the Met hiding most of the works that tourists and residents expect to see?
LACMA signed an agreement with the Ahmanson Foundation long ago, and I don’t blame the foundation one bit for not going along with LACMA’s new plan. To me it seems like LACMA wants to make the museum more like a website or theme park ride.
Re: “LACMA Caught Teardown Bug” by Sam Lubell [Feb. 23]: Have Los Angeles City and Los Angeles County officials taken leave of their senses for allowing this narcissistic/elitist plan for replacement of the current LACMA complex? Have they never heard of renovation or upgrading?
The egregiousness of taking on mounting debt that taxpayers will be obligated to pay is untenable.
The voters of the City and County of Los Angeles sensibly voted in propositions to alleviate the homeless problem.
At a time for attention to dire humane needs, how can city and county officials spend their time and in good conscience approve this project? Hopefully the voters of Los Angeles will take notice of this atrocious lack of leadership at the voting [booth] this week and in coming elections.
Playa del Rey
You ask if LACMA can afford its new building. I wonder if L.A. County can. Sure, I could complain that Zumthor’s design looks like a cat hairball, but my bigger objection concerns the arrogant wastefulness of the county funding this sprawling one-story design during a historic homelessness crisis.
Why not require the museum to build a high-rise, let Michael Govan take as much space as he needs for both art and offices, and devote the rest of the building to subsidized housing? That would be a real work of art.
By substantially reducing gallery space and, apparently, planning to rotate or “curate” the bulk of the permanent collection, the museum is stepping back from the proper function of an encyclopedic, major-city art museum in favor of what looks like a dumbed-down attempt to pander to the occasional visitor at the expense of the true soul of a museum — the art lover, the person who comes often and enjoys revisiting great works or discovering new, unnoticed treasures.
Creative curation is obviously an important function for any museum, but this smacks of arrogance, as if to say, “we’ll tell you what to like.”
Time to pause, raise more money, and build a two-story structure. It’s not so hard to take an escalator up one floor. At the Broad, it’s even kind of fun.
The costs that are never mentioned in the projections for Zumthor’s “Motel 6” over Wilshire to replace the existing LACMA buildings are the huge ongoing costs of both storing and protecting the precious works of art. Both of these expenses will be ever more costly for future generations.
It should be remembered that LACMA is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Not the Los Angeles Celebrity Museum of Art.
Michael Govan, his board of trustees and the others responsible, including the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, would be well advised to remember this and fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities.
LACMA does not need another ode to architecture; it needs a big box with a big basement to serve the needs of our encyclopedic art collection. It needs curatorial and administrative offices, and laboratories for preparation, restoration and preservation of the large variety of art objects in the collection. It needs spaces for both instructive classes and entertaining presentations such as are shown now in the Bing Auditorium. It needs security, not expensive scattered storage.
Many institutions with comparable missions and collections offer excellent examples of how to meld the old buildings with the new, to expand, protect the collections and continue the art availabilty to the public. Among these are the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., and the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. The past Huntington president, Steve Goblick, is on record as stating that local contractor O.K. Earl builds what we need and that the Huntington will never build another building without a huge basement to meet the ongoing needs of storage and maintenance of our collections.
In case L.A. Times readers do not know, the new entrance garden covers 9,000 square feet of library storage at the Huntington. While the Huntington Mansion remains very much as it was when Henry and Arabella lived there, the library has been expanded seven times and the American Art Building expanded at least five times without taking significant exhibitions away from the public. It can be done and there are many examples for LACMA to follow.
So please, L.A. Times leadership and readership, help stop the madness that will, for many years, closet most of the LACMA collections and saddle future L.A. County residents with needless, astronomic expense.
When my husband was a young teenager in the 1950s East London, he would take a bus into the city to the (now) Tate Britain. He said at that time the art museum was crammed with works. He spent hours studying them, reluctantly going home.
Later, in the ’60s when we met, he was so disappointed that museums started to design interiors — spotlighting works and sadly putting many more in the basement.
It was wonderful when our first Wilshire LACMA was built. We loved it, and we loved visiting the surrounding parkland, La Brea Tar Pits and the George C. Page bones museum.
Nowadays, it appears the architects of museums are more important than the artworks themselves. In recent years the Tate Britain brought up from the basement treasures not seen in years, and it was so lovely to see them.
The new-to-be LACMA apparently is more important than the fabulous collection we have, if so much less is to be shown? The sweeping annex over Wilshire will be like any other freeway overpass — casting a shadow, so i hope the cleaning crews keep it clean and rubbish-free.
One more point, re: concrete walls. Having a contemporary look is more important to this architect than the hanging of paintings. My apartment has concrete walls and nothing can hang from them without drilling a hole. And if art is moved, then those holes have to be filled, or left. How about having faux concrete walls, and put some of the multimillions to use by hiring an artist to paint them?
The proposed new LACMA building is a disgraceful fiscal fiasco the public does not need, is opposed to by the discerning public and increases the public debt when funds are short for the homeless and destitute.
I arrived in Los Angeles the year LACMA was opened (1965) and found an engaging campus with the beginning of a world-class art collection that has served the public well.
What is most important in a public art museum is its collection and how it is displayed. The least important is the structure itself, unless it sullies the site it occupies and increases the indebtedness of the people it serves. We will be burdened with a world-class architect whose vision fails us.
Jerome P. Helman
It is clear that LACMA cannot afford this vanity building project in both financial terms (no one honestly believes that its cost will be under $1 billion) nor in terms of the damage that will be done to the museum’s mission.
That the building will have less exhibition space than the buildings it replaces will mean that our world-class encyclopedic collection will go permanently into storage, with only fragments being cycled out for public view. Add to that the facts that this project uses up all the currently unused space on LACMA’s campus, plus a chunk of airspace over Wilshire, making future expansion impossible, and that the curators, conservators and other staff will be moved off-site, and what you’ve got is an unmitigated disaster. We won’t even end up with an interesting building since most of what little interest it had has been value-engineered out.
To L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, please stop this now before it’s too late.
In all the ongoing discussions about the future shape of LACMA, there has been little said about the effect the new structure will have on the donation of artworks upon which most American museums have depended to establish and build their collections. Given the choice of an institution that will put the artworks on display versus one that will only store them and occasionally use them as a source for possible exhibitions, the donors of the best work will not look to LACMA but elsewhere.
When museumgoers visit museums, they look for those works that they have heard of and that give them insight into our lives and cultures. We go to see them again and again, these sources of joy and inspiration great works of art offer us.
I am not sure that a fluid system that is subjective to the taste and style of a given moment in time can be successful by trivializing years of scholarship and experience.
Allen J. Manzano
There is another yet unmentioned cost of the new LACMA plan and that is to the air quality, not only in the immediate vicinity but potentially the entire L.A. Basin by an endless stream of uncovered dump trucks hauling away tons of deconstruction waste of four buildings.
How will all that dust and exhaust fumes from the passing debris parade affect visitors to the Peterson Museum, the new Motion Picture Academy Museum and La Brea Tar Pits, let alone the schools, convalescent homes, parks and sidewalks along the city streets to the nearest freeway?
How far away is the nearest landfill that will accept the trucks and how will the communities along the way be impacted? Talk about a hidden cost of this massive, invasive proposed project. This will have a serious impact on our already fragile environment.
With his unfounded assertion that a one-story museum is necessary because it is democratic and “antihierarchical,” LACMA director Michael Govan has behaved in a most undemocratic, autocratic manner by hiring an architect without any input from anyone else; refusing to open the LACMA renovation/replacement project to an architectural competition; and keeping the ever-changing Zumthor plan (12 years and counting) a secret from the public.
As Miranda’s article states: “[N]o final plans for the future museum’s galleries have been publicly revealed.”
How is it possible that funding was obtained for an unknown plan, especially with taxpayer funding? An investigation is certainly in order, notwithstanding Govan’s swaggering claim that raising another $100 million is “like walking after you’ve run hard.” As Miranda points out, building and maintenance costs have already ballooned, and will undoubtedly do so in the coming years. The $100 million estimate may prove insufficient.
Apart from these shocking, significant procedural deficiencies, the Govan-Zumthor architectural plan is deeply flawed, from reducing the amount of gallery space to making that space glass-enclosed. As all museum and art professionals know, sunlight is fatal to art; glass is the last material a museum would choose to surround its art.
In addition, the cost of keeping a glazed east-/west-facing exhibition space properly air-conditioned is significant, and certainly not ecologically sound. Sam Lubell remarked that the Zumthor design “promises wonderful views of the neighborhood through large sheets of uninterrupted glass.”
Seriously? Are museums now touting views of a neighborhood rather than views of artworks? If the view was really such an important factor to Govan and Zumthor, they could have built a three- or four-story museum with a viewing platform at the top.
Everything about the Govan-Zumthor plan is questionable. Before it is too late, the public and the supervisors who represent them must call for a halt to this folly while demanding a museum that is practical, sustainable and respectful of the art it contains. As the recent full-page advertisement in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times implied, the Govan-Zumthor plan is dead in the water.
Thank you for your thoughtful analysis of the financing challenges LACMA will face with this project.
LACMA trustees clearly have great confidence in their ability to raise new money for this project from outside sources, as well as their own charitable assets. Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering that the National Bureau of Economic Research reported in July 2019 that the United States had by then enjoyed the longest economic expansion in its history — more than 120 consecutive months of growth. In times like these, major gift campaigns for costly, high-profile projects can almost seem easy: New donors emerge, eager to support an ambitious agenda; established donors increase their support, and everyone is keen to make the most of charitable contributions as part of their tax and estate planning strategies.
The concern, of course, is that in 2020 “times like these” may not last much longer — a recession will likely occur at some point during LACMA’s multiyear development plan. Even in moderate recessions, new money is harder to raise and established donors may renegotiate or delay payment on existing commitments. In more extreme cases, like the 2008 financial crisis, even loyal supporters are likely to redirect a portion of their charitable giving to nonprofits that meet a more pressing need, like food banks or social services. Under those conditions, large capital projects that have unexpected design changes and poor cost controls and aren’t completed on time present serious risks to an organization’s mission and financial stability. Similar considerations make any attempt to finance cost overruns with public money politically difficult and highly embarrassing.
As a result, trustees of institutions like LACMA must be very careful not to overextend themselves. Reading your article, I was sadly reminded that debt service costs and other financial constraints forced the American Folk Art Museum to sell its remarkable (then new) home on West 53rd Street to MoMA in 2011.
Many of those costs and constraints were directly related to construction of the West 53re Street buildings, subsequently demolished to make way for the 40,000 square feet of new gallery space you mention that MoMA opened last year.
A cautionary tale.
Good sense in both articles [by Miranda and Lubell]. Besides problems cited in numerous articles and letters — including the complete inadequacy to house or display a substantial part of the existing collections, the terrible unresolved level of debt already carried by the museum and resulting prohibitive future ticket prices, the lack of offices for curators and staff (who should be ever-present to monitor threats of any sort to the collections as they ordinarily would do in passing through every day), the inadequacy of the library for both usage and storage, and the loss of beloved galleries that could be renovated and help solve many of these problems — there are additional problems with the design: Concrete is very subject to absorbing and retaining humidity, and destructively passing it on to the attached works of art. Concrete walls also mean that every change in display will cause ugly holes that can’t be repaired. Current walls are flexible, and can be painted after old holes repaired.
The giant glass walls, however pretty the view (and distracting from the art), halve the potential display space. And, importantly, the uncontrolled light is damaging to a large variety of artwork. Even if all the glass is UV filtered (fundamental but expensive), the air-conditioning costs will be raised by inadequate insulation from outside light and rising temperatures. And I don’t see any solar panels to help with the added electrical needs.
It is still not too late to stop, reevaluate and redesign the entire unpopular, wasteful and disastrous current project into the kind of campus that fulfills current and future needs, financial, aesthetic and practical. Hold the bulldozers back until then.
Gloves come off in Democratic debate
I agree with Mary McNamara’s analysis in her column [“Warren Swings and Hits,” Feb. 22]. Smart, articulate and passionate, Warren was by far the winner of the Las Vegas Democratic debate, yet most talking heads and newspaper articles gave her short shrift. Her plans are well thought out and doable. We followed her years ago when she devised the Consumer Protection Agency. As a retired high school teacher of 21 years, I give Warren an A plus.
Mary McNamara is a cheerleader? Obviously. Let’s get the white girls all fired up for Liz Warren as she put her “badass” self up against that male chauvinist pig billionaire and, in Bernie’s case, millionaire piglet. She was in her “warrior” mode and shut them down but good. Will McNamara be this fired up for Nikki Haley when the Republicans select her as their nominee in 2024?
championed Elizabeth Warren’s “bat swinging and willingness to get down and dirty” when the outcome of her vile demonstration was to destroy the possibility of anything positive coming out of that night. The only Democratic candidate to emerge as a sympathetic character was Bloomberg, who should receive props for his calm demeanor and willingness to stay the course in the face of such a well-orchestrated gang-mentality attack from the others. The only other candidate to benefit from this debacle was Donald Trump.
Warren’s shoddy and mean-spirited attack on Bloomberg dragged her down in the eyes of most Americans and hurt the Democratic Party once known as the party of decency. Trump had to be ecstatic.
Contrary to what Mary McNamera and others believe, “likeability” is not a special burden placed on women candidates. And one can be strong and likeable at the same time.
Perhaps the greatest attraction that Reagan had was his likeability. He could be forceful and strong, but was never hectoring or harsh.
FDR and JFK oozed charm and good humor.
No one would want to have a beer with John Kerry, unless they wanted to get lectured about Ghengis Khan.
In order to win elections, you need to win votes. To win votes, people have to like you. Regardless of your gender.
I hope Elizabeth Warren does well. But remember, Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders by 4 million votes in the primaries and beat Donald Trump by 3 million votes in the general. Stop bashing Hillary and adding to misogyny.
Mary Kay Gordon
‘Parasite’s’ big wins
Regarding “A Huge Win All Over” [Feb. 11]: I’m not sure what is more impressive: “Parasite” and Bong Joon Ho winning international film, best picture, director and original screenplay or movie critic Justin Chang’s insight and guts to call correctly all four wins. Kudos to Bong Joon Ho and to Justin Chang.
William David Stone
Editor’s note: Justin Chang indicated “Parasite” should win all four categories, and predicted Sam Mendes would win Best Director for “1917.”
I’m so glad that “Parasite” won Best Picture.
President Trump’s damning remarks about this film reflect his xenophobia and bigotry, since, if it isn’t in English or have white actors, it doesn’t qualify.
Bravo to the Academy for recognizing this film, because for once, they reflect the diversity of the industry.
Broadway classic given new life
Regarding theater critic Charles McNulty’s review of “West Side Story” on Broadway [“Love Renewed, Feb. 21]: I saw “West Side Story” at the Sunday matinee and thought your review was right on. Several times I was close to tears.
I am a retired theater arts teacher from Palisades Charter High School and produced the show several times (including one with J.J. Abrams in the cast). I have seen the show many times — even Larry Kert in the original Broadway production.
Nothing compares to the emotional impact of this production and the relevance it has for today’s youth. Thank you for your wonderful reviews over the years.
Thank you for your excellent review of the latest iteration of “West Side Story.” Your piece is exquisitely written with some very nice touches. You provide history and context and your perspective on the evolution of this cultural icon is appreciated.
Back in the late 1970s I was a graduate student in New York when Broadway staged an updated version of the play. The big news then was that, for the very first time, the role of Maria was going to be performed by an actual Latina.
The play and our society continue to grow and evolve. Apparently this new version keeps the play relevant by honestly reflecting our times.
Disappointed in promising series
After reading your review of the new Netflix series “Gentefied” [“L.A. Story Speaks to All,” Feb. 22], I decided to watch a couple of episodes.
What a shame that this series and the series “Vida” choose to represent white people as the enemy of the Latino community and as stereotypical morons.
I like the “Vida” series and the new “Gentefied” looks promising but it just drives me crazy that these writers perpetuate ridiculous representations of the white culture. Us white folk are very comfortable in having Latino friends, neighbors and work colleagues in our communities and I think the same holds true for most Latinos in being very comfortable with us white folk.
Please stop spreading hatred among our two cultures and start to represent our culture in a realistic manner.
‘Mormon’ from the inside
When I see “The Book of Mormon” in March, it will be the ninth time. I agree completely with Daryl H. Miller’s observation that the portrayal of Africans is stereotypical and xenophobic [“Great Cast Overcomes a Dated Show,” Feb. 21]. I remember being uncomfortable nine years ago in New York City when I first saw the play.
Why do I keep returning? The show has helped me process my way out of my anger toward the church. I was excommunicated in 1979 after I asked to be removed from the rolls, an action since stopped due to a lawsuit against another church for the same reason. And that was only the beginning of my anger. The advent of the Internet exposed Mormonism: its manipulation of its own history, its sexism, its homophobia, its racism, its double talk, its hypocrisy.
Also, I enjoy the “inside” jokes, certain throwaway lines or words that only someone who has been a member will get.
Further, I know that this show is not ultimately about the Mormon religion and its quirks and oddities. The Mormon church stands metaphorically for all organized religions.
Best of all, and this is the moment that makes my heart so happy it could burst, in the final scene with the creation of “The Book of Arnold,” the statement is that the human mind creates gods, religions and religious myths.
Yet not one critic has ever mentioned this takeaway in any review I have ever read.
I was happy to see the marvelous Appreciation by Scott Bradfield of author Charles Portis [“‘True Grit’ Author Offered Much More,” Feb. 21].
From time to time an author will write an extraordinary book, or even more than one, but for whatever reason their name fails to register and they are quickly forgotten. For myself I speak of such as Alexander Trocchi (“Cain’s Book”) , Edward Dahlberg (“Because I Was Flesh”) and Thomas Berger (“Little Big Man”).
Charles Portis was another. In my all-time top-10 list are two Charles Portis books: “True Grit” and “Norwood.” Humor is the greatest gift, but there is also something called the emotional punch, and Portis knew how to practice both.
As one critic said: Charles Portis could have been Cormac McCarthy — but he decided to be funny. And, I would add, not only will you laugh — you will laugh out loud. But he was a man who valued his privacy and knew how to protect it — move back home to Arkansas and don’t answer the phone.
Now he has been returned to view with the Scott Bradfield Appreciation and maybe we can keep him there for a bit.
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