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Renzo Piano’s Architecture for LACMA: An Irreverent Photo Essay

Here’s the Wall Street Journal piece on the new Broad Contemporary Art Museum of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which I’ve been promising you. It’s in tomorrow’s newspaper but online now: LA Story With Broad and Piano (Page D7 in the “Personal Journal” section).
Now that it’s out, I’m liberated from the confines of the phone booth and ready to fly around in my CultureGrrl cape. Here’s another of my irreverent photo essays. But you must promise to read the newspaper article first, to prepare for what follows. This time, I’ll do my photojournalism two parts. First, let’s grapple with the architecture; later, the people and the galleries.
BroadPavil.jpg
Above is what you see when you first approach the west side of LACMA’s campus—the canopied pavilion that looked to me like a carport, perhaps a fitting image for vehicle-obsessed LA. Nicolai Ouroussoff of the NY Times called it “a gas station.” That works for me. But what are those shower curtains on the right, behind the woman in the white shirt? Let’s take a closer look:
BroadShwr.jpg
Hmmm. Not very lovely. They’re mounted on a track that permits enclosure of the open-air entry plaza when wind or rain threaten. LACMA’s director, Michael Govan, who has never seen anything that could not be improved by an artist, assures me that he will commission someone to create more aesthetically pleasing drapery.
Here’s a full view of BCAM, accented in Charles Ray fire-engine red. (Eli Broad told me he bought Ray’s “Firetruck” (on the left, parked near the carport) from that other contemporary mega-collector, Charles Saatchi.)
BroadFull2.jpg
Below is the much discussed escalator to the third floor of BCAM. Reports say that it broke down for a while during the public opening last weekend.
BroadEsc.jpg
Also breaking down was BCAM’s giant Barbara Kruger-surrounded, glass-enclosed elevator—out of service for almost the entire press preview. I happened to be the first to inform Govan of this glitch, right before we sat down together for lunch. “Was anyone in it?” he inquired anxiously. I never did get to ride in it and see the entire Kruger piece, appropriately titled, “Shafted.” Here’s what I did manage to see, peering through the glass door:
BroadElev.jpg
Here’s a view of Piano’s signature skylight apparatus. Each time it’s a bit different, depending on the needs of the project and the quality of local light…or maybe depending on cost and the architect’s latest theories. This one, I’ve been told, has computerized shades instead of louvers and sunlight bounces back and forth between the fins so that it is indirect when it ultimately descends into the gallery:
BroadSky.jpg
Looking up from the third-floor gallery, you can see strips of sky through fritted glass, and other parts appear opaque—a perplexing unevenness:
BroadCeil.jpg
All those red girders lining the long concourse connecting buildings on the lower-level west campus seemed to me more obtrusive than attractive:
BroadConc.jpg
Here’s a view from the new BCAM towards the former May department store, now dubbed LACMA West:
BroadWest.jpg
But here’s another view of the same building, from Wilshire Boulevard. You can see why I called it “dilapidated”:
BroadMay.jpg
The interior of LACMA West, currently used as a children’s space, looks like this:
BroadWInt.jpg
And finally, here’s what that Piano-designed stairway-to-the-stars (actually, to the rest of LACMA’s campus) looks like. It’s part of the architect’s reconfiguration of the atrium of the old Ahmanson building. I actually did climb that mountain, but I think I’m getting too old for this. That’s artist Ellsworth Kelly standing at the base, chatting with modern art curator Stephanie Barron. (Kelly opted for the elevator.)
BroadStair.jpg
Part II is here.

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