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OTHER VOICES ON ART, POWER AND COLLECTING AT LACMA


Go to Bill Lasarow's commentary,
LACMA: Transformed?


We invited some of our contributors who followed the stories and made early visits to the new LACMA campus to share their reactions. What we received shows that there are a number of overlapping narratives to choose from when building an informed impression. If there is much to celebrate, it seems that there is plenty to be critical of as well.

SOME THINGS TO ADMIRE

How gratifying to see a Tony Smith sculpture that I had not seen since 1967, when I attended his fantastic exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC. To see it placed in the new entrance to the Ahmanson, with a dramatic staircase in order to see the very geometry of the piece was a joy to behold. I must say that the embracing of the old building and the new is a blessing for the public, but alas the entrance has no street access from across Wilshire. That is a travesty, nor can one leave people off in front of the building. But thanks to the curatorial skills of Stephanie Barron, the modern section has a new zest and energy, with a dynamic seldom seen in other museums. And if Piano continues to build on the LACMA campus, perhaps we will have something to admire, rather than to be dazzled by.--Judith Hoffberg


BCAM, south facing facade.




Tony Smith, "Smoke,"
1967 (fabricated in 2005).

THE CONTROVERSY OF GIVING

The Picasso paintings, Giacometti sculptures and other works of modern art given quietly by Janice and Henri Lazarof to the L.A. County Museum of Art prove to be a ravishing indictment of Eli Broad.  Compared to these low-profile philanthropists, the mogul who throws money at sundry high-profile naming opportunities throughout Southern California comes off as grasping and cheap. His refusal to donate any part of his collection to the museum under the aegis of a “new paradigm,” whereby his foundation functions as a lending library of contemporary art, is at odds with his own self-image of philanthropist. If this is the new paradigm, it is doubtful that it ought to be welcomed by the public. Instead, visitors to the museum can be warmed by the art donated by the Lazarofs, a welcome example of an old paradigm: selfless generosity.--Hunter Drohojowska-Philp

Having watched LACMA evolve from the early days of Maurice Tuchman’s Art and Technology exhibit to the splendor of the BCAM, I was particularly anguished to read that Eli Broad is providing the body of the Broad Contemporary but not the heart.  Broad led the way to the hiring of Michael Govan, an outstanding director who has infused fresh life into a museum that had a CEO for a director. He has brought contemporary art into the LACMA mainstream and given us back the “wow” factor.  As part of the Williams College art mafia (as Rusty Powell was) he is an extraordinary leader. And Broad has run him over.  Also, Broad is sticking it to the city of Los Angeles. While his lending library concept may sound laudable in theory, what is more important: having magnificent works of art on display in a huge metropolitan area or exposing a few thousand people to them in an obscure university art museum?--Kathy Zimmerer



Charles Ray, "Firetruck," 1993, painted aluminum, fiberglass and Plexiglas, 144 x 558 x 96".













Cindy Sherman, "Untitled #228,"
1990, color photograph, 82 x 48".
CHURCH OF MONEY POSES FOR THE PUBLIC

The Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) is neither Contemporary nor is it a museum. The art here is no more contemporary than the Ronald Reagan presidency, and the building’s innards are a celebration of the 1980s--a decade that saw Late Socialism whither in the face of deficit spending and market-driven patriotic chutzpah. If we the people are the museum, if the public owns its own art, then this is the BCA401K. The architecture of this building is Centre Pompidou Lite, with the Pompidou’s architect Renzo Piano playing it safer than even his bleached wood and beige stone tiles would suppose. Sterility on the walls matches the sterility of the walls. There will not be hordes of tourists taking many exterior shots of this numbingly dull building. Yes, the church of money has a new cathedral posing as a public service and some of it happens to be accidentally fantastic--the massive Tony Smith sculpture in the lobby of the old Ahmanson, the Chris Burden sidewalk chandelier of city street lights, Warhol’s Elvis Presley, a roomful of poorly-lit Basquiats, and an enrapturing Richard Serra installation that takes up one entire floor of the interior exhibition space. But so much of the initial exhibit is blue chip garbage from a wasted twenty-year span when art was a baby-boomer playground that became a better investment strategy than a coke habit.--Mat Gleason

LEWIN COLLECTION RAISES CONCERNS

I had the opportunity to work with the museum, and view as an outsider the labyrinthine manipulations and inner workings of these apparently wonderful additions to the collection. It may provide a clue as to why  Broad changed his mind. In 1997 the Bernard and Edith Lewin Collection of approximately 2,000 works was to serve as the cornerstone for future collections and  exhibitions of Latin American art. But two recent Christie’s auction catalogues list major works by Rufino Tamayo, Rafael Coronel and Carlos Merida, all from the Lewin Collection, to be “sold to benefit acquisitions of Latin American art”  and these are only the latest to be put up for auction. I’ve been concerned and even appalled at how the museum is quietly breaking up and siphoning off the Lewin Collection by putting important works on the auction block. My concern is that the museum isn’t sufficiently focused on taking care of what it already has acquired, but rather looking for the next, new exciting thing.--Margarita Nieto

SEEING LACMA WITH FRESH EYES

Renzo Piano’s design for the new LACMA campus is extraordinary.  Gone is Ogden Drive, replaced by what will eventually be recognized as a most singular grand entrance to this 20-acre cultural center.  Already it is marked by Chris Burden’s spectacular “Urban Light” installation and “Palm Garden,” Robert Irwin’s earth work (in process) highlighted by a line of palm trees along a main concourse that cuts through the museum complex.
Inside, thanks to Piano’s marvelous treatment of skylights, illumination is as pristine as north light in the Netherlands. And throughout all three floors, the installation of work reflects the Broad’s practice of collecting their favorite artists in depth.  From what is on display, it’s obvious they are great fans of Jeff Koons, John Baldessari, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Ed Ruscha.--Shirle Gottlieb


Renzo Piano Building Workshop,
site plan, LACMA campus plan.

SOME TROUBLING STATISTICS
from The Guerilla Girls

BCAM, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA:
30 artists, 97% white, 87% male
Broad Foundation collection:
194 artists, 96% white, 83% male