Inconvenient Truths at LACMA: Sweeping Debt, Dealmaking, and Dubious Design under the Red Carpet

Inconvenient Truths at LACMA:
Sweeping Debt, Dealmaking, and Dubious
Design under the Red Carpet

by Joseph Giovannini

 “…from the very beginning the ambitious project has been personality driven, based much more on Govan’s determination, enthusiasm, and charisma than on a compelling and original design or trustable financial facts.”
Joseph Giovannini

The third, and final, installment of Joseph Giovannini’s brilliant dismantling of the architectural follies at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, reveals a publicly-owned institution gone fiscally amuck. LACMA, in Giovannini’s view, has become a private fief subsidized by hundreds of millions in taxpayer money – $425 million is the latest infusion – without a shred of accountability.

LACMA’s present campaign to build Peter Zumthor’s zig-zag museum, bridging Wilshire Boulevard, Giovannini explains, is not just poor aesthetics, it is an unforgivable squandering of the Museum’s only substantial endowment: its real estate holdings. Going forward with the Swiss architect’s estimated billion dollar building means that LACMA, which already gave away a building of equal size – the May Company, now being converted into the privately-held Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences museum – will also shed the two-acre lot it owns on Wilshire Boulevard, at Spaulding. The lot, used today for parking, was intended by LAMCA’s board to be commercially developed, thus ensuring a steady revenue stream for the cash-poor, but land-rich, Museum.

Giovannini concludes with a stark warning: LACMA director Michael Govan’s love affair with Zumthor’s “conceptually flawed” design could put the institution in a financial tailspin. “Think of the mastodons sipping at the tar pits. LACMA now risks the same fate,” he writes. Giovannini has been leading a lone crusade to alert the city to the perils of LACMA’s present ambitions. We should heed his sobering account. – Greg Goldin

Top photo: John Fladd

Joseph Giovannini biography

Joseph Giovannini essays on LACMA:
Los Angeles Review of Books, 19 July 2015: Inconvenient Truths at LACMA: Sweeping Debt, Dealmaking, and Dubious Design under the Red Carpet

Los Angeles Review of Books, 19 April 2015: Peter Zumthor at LACMA: A Preacher in the Wrong Church

Los Angeles Review of Books, 20 July 2014: A U-Turn on Wilshire: Why Frank Gehry Should Design LACMA

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