Thursday, January 12, 2017

More Thoughts on the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art

Norman Rockwell, "The Checkup," c. 1957. George Lucas collection
George Lucas has chosen L.A.'s Exposition Park as the site of his planned Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.

Why L.A.? My surmise, very wrong as it turned out, was that Lucas would side with the perception of San Francisco as classy and L.A. as crass. ("Isn't it nice that people who prefer Los Angeles to San Francisco live there?" —Herb Caen.)
It appears that Mayor Eric Garcetti's arguments resonated. In L.A. the Lucas museum is likely to draw more visitors and more diverse visitors. It will inspire more filmmakers and artists. It will be close to great universities and museums. The Exposition Park site is on the Expo line, near the city's core, while the San Francisco site is on Treasure Island, tricky to access.
Who knew? L.A. beat S.F. on public transit, urban authenticity, and intellectual credibility.
George Herriman, "Krazy Kat" (1933)
Global Warming. Alternate theory: Lucas fretted that melting icecaps might threaten the Treasure Island site. "They want to be sure the building will withstand sea-level rise," the ironically named Adam Van De Water, City Project Manager, told KCBS News.
N.C. Wyeth, "The Duel on the Beach" (1926), an illustration to Treasure Island
Winners: Exposition Park Museums. The Lucas will draw global crowds and media to Exposition Park. That's a likely win for the park's other museums, which complement rather than compete with the Lucas. It should boost attendance at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, the California Science Center, and the California African American Museum.
Cel of "Dumbo with the Magic Feather," Disney c. 1941
Does L.A. Need Two Big Movie Museums? The Lucas isn't a movie museum exactly but it will be on the Star Wars pilgrimage. It will compete, loosely, with the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. The latter is to open about 2018; the Lucas maybe 2021.
L.A. has long drawn visitors who want to experience "Hollywood." They learn that actual Hollywood is disappointing and celebrity-free aside from costumed grifters demanding cash for selfies. Both new museums promise to be fun and informative and worthwhile. There ought to be plenty of visitors for both.
Rendering of Ma Yansong's Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Exposition Park
The Building. It's tough to say whether to take the Ma Yansong renderings seriously or literally. Either way it ought to be the most interesting structure in the Park. Yes, there's Frank Gehry's aerospace museum, but that's now a derelict. The Lucas budget will be vastly more that Gehry had, and the building will be big, comparable to the Academy museum, with about 270,000 square feet of interior space and 100,000 sq. ft. of exhibition galleries. It will be bigger than the de Young or the Uffizi.
Arthur Rackham, "Badger's Winter Stories"
Norman Rockwell. Christopher Knight calls the Lucas the Treacle Museum. A subset of the collection meets that description, above all Norman Rockwell. Lucas has paid stupendous sums at auction for Rockwell paintings (sometimes competing against Steven Spielberg). It was he who paid an incredible $46 million for Saying Grace (1951).
Rockwell-as-artist has defenders. I'm not one of them. I do think it's good for institutions to preserve Rockwell's work as a social document, alongside works by his peers.
But with Lucas paying Rembrandt money for Rockwells, it's a safe bet the Rockwells will be on permanent and reverential view, like the Rembrandts at the Getty.
Norman Rockwell, "Saying Grace" (1951)
Degas, Homer, Renoir, Not So Much. Lucas is getting his money's worth out of these three artists, as they're mentioned in a large share of the written-from-press release coverage of the museum. It's apt to leave the impression that Lucas collects a lot of so-called fine art as well as the narrative kind. But the website lists exactly one work by each of the three aforementioned artists. The Degas and Homer are watercolors (and can't be on permanent display). The Renoir is a painting and nothing special. Given that the collection is said to have 10,000 paintings and works on paper, and 30,000 items of film memorabilia, some of it the best of its kind, three minor works by Degas, Homer, and Renoir hardly rate mention.

Winslow Homer, "Four Leaf Clover" (c. 1878)
Will the Lucas Kill L.A.'s Smart Vibe? At long last the city, its artists, and its museums are being taken seriously. Within a few years the openings of the Academy Museum and the Lucas will shift the conversation back to L.A. as Tinsel Town. (Darth Vader's helmet! The ruby slippers!) Just an observation.
Character make-up for "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," 2000
The $$$. Lucas has said his museum will have a $400 million endowment. That's huge. It's twice what Eli Broad has promised, and more than any other Los Angeles museum aside from the Getty. The sort of art that the Broad and the Getty acquire is expensive. Norman Rockwell aside, most of the works the Lucas collects are considerably cheaper. This implies a museum with the resources to redefine itself after its founder's time. It will have considerable power to exhibit and acquire whatever its curators decide.
Charles Shultz, "Peanuts" comic strip (1953, detail)

2 comments:

dtr said...

My thoughts are that Lucas' heart was with SF. Considering LA wasn't even in the running until Garcetti forced the city into the conversation and offered itself up, it probably was the least wanted location in Lucas' mind. Also a knock on LA was that from past interviews, he seems to have somewhat of a dislike of LA and the overall Hollywood industry in general. I guess multiple rejections caused him to look at the proposals much more pragmatically, despite the hometown pride for SF.

Arlene Mathews said...

That old Herb Caen comment reminds me of Woody Allen sniping a few decades ago that the only cultural advantage of Los Angeles was being to turn right on a red light. A bit of sarcasm that at the time - the overly humble smoggy past - wasn't without reason. He has since said that criticism is no longer applicable.

If your blog was extended to include the topic of the ongoing - and long-needed, long overdue - physical upgrading of central Los Angeles, mid-city and Hollywood, much less specific portions like USC's new shopping center, all of those things could be added together to come up with the conclusion: This is one heckuva time. So buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Incidentally, I'm not even referring to the elaborate new Star Wars theme area now being built in Anaheim several miles south of George Lucas's future museum.

Indifferent locals or hipster cynics (or cretins too) may not care, but other people will find these ongoing changes quite bracing and enjoyable.