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Architect Watch: Mies Down in Chicago; Zumthor Up in LA

Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, left, accepting this year’s Pritzker Prize in May from Tom Pritzker, chairman of the Art Institute of Chicago

In the tradition of “nattering nabobs of negativism” (R.I.P. William Safire, who penned that phrase when he was speech writer for Vice President Sprio Agnew), we now can enunciate a new alliterative putdown: “mediocre morsel of modernism.”

That’s Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin‘s euphonious eulogy for Mies van der Rohe‘s Test Cell, which hit the dust, as expected, last week. Kamin cited support for flicking away that “crumb” from Richard Lacayo‘s Looking Around blog, which (unmentioned by Blair) also hit the dust last week.

Meanwhile, Edward Lifson, the leader of Kamin’s unnamed “cadre of earnest bloggers” (what cadre?) who championed Test Cell, has just scored a scoop in the Architects Newspaper with this piece on Michael Govan‘s decision to engage this year’s Pritzker Prize winner, Peter Zumthor, to rethink the campus of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In his interview with Lifson, Zumthor revealed that his plans for the eastern part of LACMA’s disjointed campus will involve demolition of existing buildings.

Wait a minute! Wasn’t the master plan for the campus supposed to have been Renzo Piano’s job (and Rem Koolhaas‘, before him)? Piano, whose Broad Contemporary Art Museum opened almost two years ago to mixed reviews (including mine), is also architect for LACMA’s Resnick Exhibition Pavilion, now under construction and scheduled to open in 2010.

In a phone interview with Lifson, Govan, who assumed LACMA’s directorship in 2006 (after Koolhaas had been ditched and Piano embraced) alluded to his museum’s serial romances with architects (shades of the Whitney Museum’s flirtations with Michael Graves, Koolhaas and now, Piano):

You know obviously Rem proposed an interesting scheme for that [master-plan] process, and Renzo has proposed some ideas as well. For me, I had worked with Peter Zumthor before [at the Dia Foundation], and he’s just one of the great architects of architectural history and so I was really interested in working with him to get his take on what might be accomplished if you really took a big, long view of the park and the museum.

Presumably Zumthor and Govan are also taking “a big, long view” of the museum’s finances. Katya Kazakina of Bloomberg recently reported on the delay, due to budgetary shortfalls, of Jeff Koons‘ $25-million,161-foot-tall dangling locomotive (scroll down) for LACMA. That art-skyscraper, “visible from virtually all corners of L.A.,” according to the museum’s description, seemed like a preposterously extravagant project even in the best of times. Now it seems like an unfortunate symbol for the out-of-commission economic engine.

Katya wrote:

Scheduled to arrive at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2011-2012, the “Train” project got pushed to 2014-2015 when the stock market plunged last year, erasing 23 percent of LACMA’s endowment and forcing it to rethink budget priorities, the museum said. It could be canceled altogether if the museum doesn’t come up with necessary funding.

Mike Boehm of the LA Times has more on LACMA’s financial difficulties. It’s the same old story at museums around the country coping with the aftershocks of the financial downturn.

Where’s the Koons-loving Eli Broad when LACMA really needs him?


“Train” rendering
©Jeff Koons Studio/LACMA

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