What L.A. County Supervisors Should Do on Tuesday (IMHO)
|Ed Ruscha, Study #1 for Los Angeles County Museum on Fire, 1968 (gunpowder and pencil on paper)|
County Supervisors are generally pragmatists. The perfect should not be the enemy of the good, and all that. From that standpoint, there are least two compelling cases for Zumthor-LACMA. One is the cash match. The Supervisors committed $125 million towards the Zumthor building, now expected to cost $650 million in all. That means that every dollar the County puts up is to be matched by $4.20 of private money. The County and its taxpayers would be in a lot better shape if its other pressing needs came with such a generous match.
That match didn't come out of nowhere. It's due to LACMA director Michael Govan. He has raised $560 million for the Zumthor building (about $435 million from the private donors). Anyone who's followed LACMA's history knows what a staggering feat this is. Before Govan and Zumthor there was Andrea Rich and Rem Koolhaas. Rich couldn't raise the cash (put at $200–$300 million). In fact, William Pereira's 1965 LACMA campus almost didn't happen because no one could herd the 1960s cats to raise the staggering cost of… $11.5 million.
You can say the Zumthor building is too expensive for its size. But the big-money private donors don't think so, and they're paying for most of it. The taxpayers are getting a deal. If the Zumthor project is cancelled, that $560 million will go back into everyone's pockets. Now sure, LACMA could come back in 10 years with a new director, a new architect, and a new design. But that would entail building relationships from square one, and there's no guarantee that today's big donors will be on board or even be around.
|Ed Ruscha, Study #2 for Los Angeles County Museum on Fire, 1968 (gunpowder and pencil on paper)|
In short, you would really, really have to hate the Zumthor building to be willing to forfeit $1 billion-plus worth of pledged money and art, and incur a decade or more of delay in replacing the seismically compromised east campus. Clearly the Supervisors bought into Zumthor's general design and indeed Govan's vision for the museum. I don't see them switching course at this late date.
That doesn't mean that they don't have a responsibility to cut the best possible deal for the public. In my opinion Zumthor-LACMA would be a better building with more gallery space—say, the 121,050 sf in the version of the design that the Supervisors originally approved. No, that's not as much as I'd think is ideal. But the Supervisors have every right to ask why the building was downsized from the estimates they approved, and what can be done to restore the lost space.
There's a pragmatic case for that too. A larger building will offer a more comprehensive display enhancing educational opportunities and cultural tourism; defer obsolescence as the collection grows; encourage future gifts of art that might ultimately worth more than the building's cost.
|Ed Ruscha, Study #3 for Los Angeles County Museum on Fire, 1968 (gunpowder and pencil on paper)|
The public remains in the dark about crucial information. One is the terms of Perenchio's will. Without knowing the presumptive Perenchio deadline, it's impossible to know what options exist.
Another pertinent question is how much more a bigger building would cost. The museum must already have these figures, and they would help the Supervisors make an informed decision. As far as I can tell, the only thing standing in the way of a moderately larger Zumthor building is money. The Supervisors might consider whether to allocate more County money (from future budgets) to make possible a larger Zumthor building. Few of the County's cultural initiatives are as important as this one.
|Ed Ruscha, Los Angeles County Museum on Fire, 1968 (graphite on paper)|
I've sent the above to my Supervisor, Mark Ridley-Thomas. Should you be so inclined, feel free to send a link to your Supervisor (you can find them there). Whatever you do, do it soon. The meeting is tomorrow.
|Ed Ruscha, Los Angeles County Museum on Fire, 1965–68 (oil on canvas)|