Marking a significant step in the advancement of a redesign plan for the Los Angeles Museum County of Art, the Board of Supervisors for L.A. County voted unanimously in favor of the institution’s proposed new building, designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor.
The vote was to decide whether the county would give the museum $117.5 million in funds toward a $650-million project to create a new building that would span Wilshire Boulevard, one of the city’s major transportation arteries, and involve tearing down four buildings on LACMA’s campus.
Discussion during a hearing prior to the vote by the county’s five supervisors took up the subject of increasing access to the museum’s collection. Michael Govan, LACMA’s director, called the plan the “right size for LACMA” and said that Zumthor’s design “anticipates the future of art museums. He spoke of his aim to develop LACMA as “a sharing institution,” pointing to its partnerships with the Vincent Price Art Museum at East Los Angeles College and the Charles White Elementary School. He has also previously proposed opening satellites branches in the city.
Among the more than 20 people invited to speak in support of LACMA’s proposal were actors Brad Pitt and Diane Keaton, artists Diana Thater and Ian White, architect Frank Escher, VPAM director Pilar Tompkins Rivas, Academy Museum director Kerry Brougher, and Naima J. Keith, LACMA’s recently appointed vice president for education and public programs.
In a battle that has grown increasingly heated in recent weeks, opponents of the plan have taken issue with what they see as a shortage of exhibition space for the museum’s collection and a lack of transparency in being able to see the full plans or models for the building in advance.
The vote on Tuesday followed the release of an environmental impact report late last month. That report presented modifications to Zumthor’s original design, including changing the exterior color from black to beige and shrinking LACMA’s total exhibition space by 53,000 square feet, or about 33 percent, compared to that offered by the buildings it would replace, according to an analysis in the Los Angeles Review of Books.
The amended design ignited debate within the pages of the Los Angeles Times as well as in numerous other publications. Reporter Carolina A. Miranda compared the new design to “a small-city airport terminal.” A few days later, Christopher Knight, the Times’s art critic, published his own lament. All the while, the museum had not released an official statement on the revised plan until Govan was interviewed by the paper. The following day he also published an op-ed to generate support for the vote. Knight struck back in his own piece, under the headline “Dear L.A. County: Reject the LACMA redesign plan and go back to the drawing board.”