The Annenberg Space for Photography

IMAGINE: The Annenberg Space for Photography, expected to open in spring 2009, will include a digital projection gallery.
IMAGINE: The Annenberg Space for Photography, expected to open in spring 2009, will include a digital projection gallery.
(DMJM Design)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

The Annenberg Foundation, a philanthropic powerhouse that supports nonprofit institutions, is planning to launch an exhibition space for photography in Century City. Conceived as a cultural center with broad public appeal, the Annenberg Space for Photography will open next spring near the former site of the Shubert Theatre.

The new facility is under construction in a one-story building designed to fulfill Los Angeles’ “percent for art” requirement for commercial developments. The 10,000-square-foot structure, flanked by office high-rises and the outdoor plaza known as Century Park, will house a digital projection gallery along with a more traditional display area for prints and a classroom, workshop and library.

The exhibition program will present a variety of aesthetic sensibilities, according to the foundation, but emphasize images that express its mission “to improve the well-being of the community through the exchange of ideas and new ways of thinking.” With no plans to collect photographs, the foundation -- which moved its Los Angeles headquarters from Westwood to Century City a few years ago -- will show works lent by artists, photojournalists and documentarians as well as samplings from collections of museums and media organizations in exhibitions organized by guest curators.

“For me, it’s the fulfillment of a lifelong dream,” said Wallis Annenberg, who lives in Los Angeles and oversees, with her stepmother, Leonore Annenberg, and children, Lauren Bon and Charles and Gregory Annenberg Weingarten, the foundation created by her late father, media magnate Walter H. Annenberg. “This will elevate photography to a new level and take it out of the academic realm of museums with all their politics and trustees. Photography is one of the most accessible art forms, and this will be an accessible space. We see it as a service to the community, where people can view the world through a different lens and think about making positive change.

“I love photography,” Annenberg said. And the new project is the second manifestation of her passion to come to light in the last few weeks. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where she is a trustee, recently announced a gift from Annenberg and the foundation that allowed the museum to purchase a 3,500-piece collection of photos amassed by the late Marjorie and Leonard Vernon of Los Angeles and provided funds for a photography study room.

In Century City, the foundation took over the shell of a building designated as a cultural pavilion for an occupant that had yet to be found. When the Annenberg Foundation agreed to take charge of the space, it hired architects DMJM Rottet. The firm designed the interior with a central gallery for multimedia productions and gave the circular space a ceiling resembling an aperture.

The inaugural show will celebrate the foundation’s growing presence in Los Angeles, with works by eight L.A. photographers: John Baldessari and Catherine Opie, representing the fine arts scene; Greg Gorman and Douglas Kirkland, the film, television and fashion industries; Julius Shulman and Tim Street-Porter, the architecture and look of the city; Lauren Greenfield, young women under the influence of Hollywood; and Los Angeles Times photographer Carolyn Cole, the international aspect of L.A.

Each of the artists will show a small selection of prints in the traditional gallery space. But the main attraction probably will be the digital gallery, where hundreds of additional images by the featured artists and Times photographers Kirk McKoy, Genaro Molina and Lawrence K. Ho will be projected. There also will be videos of the artists talking about their work.

The exhibition grew out of talks between foundation trustees and an advisor, Anne Wilkes Tucker, photography curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.

“In this first go,” Tucker said, “we were trying to hit the breadth of contemporary photography and of Los Angeles while keeping an eye on issues that are important to the foundation. The show might look broad, but we felt that for our first step it was best to reach for the diversity. And all the artists we selected are at the top of their fields.”

suzanne.muchnic@latimes .com