Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Zumthor's Sideways Light

Museum designs have traditionally favored filtered overhead light. Horizontal light—from vertical windows—changes throughout the day. In morning and evening it is harsh in light-blasted Southern California, as 10 and 101 commuters well appreciate. Peter Zumthor's LACMA design bets everything on horizontal light. It essentially has no other kind, save for artificial. Even the "tower" galleries will be lighted by clerestory windows and not open to the blue-sky zenith.

More is riding on the "meander" galleries. This refers to space around the margins, next to the curving horizontal windows. As Christopher Hawthorne wrote, "in certain ways the success of the building as a whole will depend on how they turn out. They may feel like an exciting new hybrid of gallery, public space and viewing platform looking down on Wilshire Boulevard. Or they may suggest a crowded hallway where some art has been stashed for lack of proper space elsewhere."

In the rendering at top, Helen Lundeberg's Linear Torso, no. 4, an acrylic painting, is potentially subjected to the rays of the setting sun. The rendering also shows two partial remedies: a roof overhang and curtains. Modernists despised curtains, and they are rare in American museums. But Zumthor has used them to striking effect. His Kolumba Museum (2007) in Cologne has hand-painted silk drapes and leather curtains.
Drapes in Peter Zumthor's Kolumba Museum, Cologne. Photo by Jörn Schiemann
Leather curtains in Peter Zumthor's Kolumba Museum, Cologne
Pierre Koenig, Stahl House (Case Study House #22). Julius Shulman photo.
Sideways views—mostly without curtains—have a long history in L.A. modernism. They've been used in a more limited basis in area museums. Richard Meier's Getty Center has a "meander" gallery in the South Pavilion. Initially the Getty didn't show much there. But a current loan of Greco-Roman antiquities from the Santa Barbara Museum of Art demonstrates how spectacular sculpture can look against landscape and sky. Frederick Fisher's expansions to the Huntington's American galleries give Art Deco sculptures a San Gabriel Mountain backdrop.
Richard Meier, Getty Center
Zumthor's meander galleries have the potential to bring this indoor-outdoor quality to an encyclopedic museum. The tough question is how much this limits curators in conceiving long-term installations. The meander galleries constitute a large fraction of the design's exhibition space. Drapes or not, they will be suited for the least light-sensitive works. Curators increasingly like to show works of different media together, and this poses a constraint on that.
Peter Zumthor, LACMA rendering

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The only reason why the proposed rebuilding of the museum with the overdone mess of Zumthor's design makes sense is because of Jerrold Perenchio's reportedly stipulating that his gift is conditioned on the museum doing exactly that. Or the idea that it's necessary to destroy LACMA in order to save it.

And in the process, ending up with less exhibit space (not more) and most likely a squeezed budget that's squeezed even further.

Win-lose-lose.

If Perenchio were really generous and truly cared about LACMA, he'd just give his gift, no strings attached.

If Govan weren't so ego-centric and so much into frills, he'd junk the whole proposal. He'd do that too if he were more honest about the situation.

It's hot air on his part when he claims it would be no less expensive and no less operationally disruptive to LACMA if the existing buildings were saved, remodeled and upgraded.

The reason why the current campus is such an architectural mish-mosh and unattractive is because the museum has never had enough money in the first place. That problem will be made even worse if LACMA goes forward with Zumthor's bloated plans.