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Entertainment & Arts

LACMA began demolition. But that hasn’t stopped a protest group for an alternate plan

Curator J. Patrice Marandel at LACMA in 2017
Curator J. Patrice Marandel stands amid LACMA’s European art collection in 2017, the year he retired.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has begun the demolition of four buildings on its east campus to make way for a new $750 million complex designed by Peter Zumthor, but that hasn’t stopped a protest group from launching a juried architectural competition for an alternate plan.

The Citizens’ Brigade to Save LACMA, an ad hoc group that has been led by architecture critics Greg Goldin and Joseph Giovannini, put out an open call inviting architects to submit ideas “that would expand gallery space, rather than shrink it” and “actually offer a home for the collections as well as all services needed to showcase and care for the collections.”

The proposal deadline was Wednesday. That same day, the group released the list of jurors who will select the winning design — a respectable (albeit all-white) roster of architecture and museum professionals.

Former J. Paul Getty Museum director John Walsh, who was part of the team that worked on the development and construction of that museum’s Richard Meier-designed building in Brentwood, will serve as competition advisor. Included on the jury are Los Angeles architect Barton Phelps, artist Lauren Bon of Metabolic Studio, who is also vice president and director of the Annenberg Foundation, and J. Patrice Marandel, who until 2017 served as LACMA’s chief curator for European art.

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The participation of Marandel, who worked at LACMA for nearly a quarter century, and Bon, whose mother, Wallis Annenberg, endowed the director’s chair at LACMA, is certainly a head-turner. (LACMA director Michael Govan’s formal title is CEO & Wallis Annenberg director.)

Artist Lauren Bon of Metabolic Studio in 2013.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Bon could not be reached for comment, but Marandel said he accepted the invitation to be on the jury because he has concerns about the Zumthor design.

“I don’t want to antagonize people,” he says. “This is not my way of being. I’m just passionate about museums and their existence. ... And I’m retired and have the luxury to speak.”

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Marandel says he also was curious to see alternatives to the existing museum plan. “I would be interested if any architect has considered the functioning of the museum — if he or she is building from the ground up, if there is room for back of house, for galleries, for storage,” he says. “I’m interested in the mechanics of the building. Of course, I’m interested in the aesthetic. But I’m really interested in the mechanics and how all of this is orchestrated.”

Marandel says that, in his view, the ideal museum places curators in close proximity to the collection, and storage in close proximity to the galleries. (The Zumthor plan has relocated curator offices to a tower across the street and placed storage off-site.)

“We are dealing with the collection — we need to look at it, we need to evaluate it, we need to look at conservation needs,” he says. “For the departments working with prints and works on paper, we need to be looking at those all of the time. For textiles, too.”

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Marandel has been critical of the Zumthor plan in the past. He was quoted in a February report about LACMA by Giovannini in the L.A. Review of Books, as well as in his own essay published late last month in the art magazine Apollo, in which he criticized the Zumthor plan as being “at odds with the smooth running of a museum.”

Goldin stated via email that the Citizens’ Brigade launched the competition as a way to “address the real needs of LACMA as it moves ahead, financially and spatially.”

Other jurors include architect and critic Aaron Betsky, director of the school of architecture at Virginia Tech; New York-based architects Winka Dubbeldam and William Pedersen; and Goldin and Giovannini.

They expect to announce the winners on April 22. The winning proposals will share a $10,000 prize.

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Legacy buildings of Los Angeles County Museum of Art are being torn apart for a new Peter Zumthor design. The planned gallery interiors remain a mystery.


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