Zumthor Building Will Have 20 Actual Galleries (My Guess!)
|Peter Zumthor, 2013 conceptual design for LACMA project's galleries
Zumthor now plans an airy layout of rectangular rooms scattered throughout the gallery floor's interior. Much of this interior space is open, offering glimpses of the glass perimeter. This space can hold art, such as free-standing sculptures and vitrines. The outsides of the rectangular rooms can also display paintings and prints. But without reading too much into the renderings, Zumthor and Govan are contemplating a relatively low density of installed art per square foot. This will, presumably, restrict the number of objects displayed more than the 10-percent haircut on square footage that has occasioned so much hand-wringing.
Overall the Zumthor design appears to have relatively little wall space for 2D art; a lot of floorspace for 3D art that isn't too light-sensitive. The thing is, LACMA doesn't have huge numbers of stone and bronze statues, not like other big museums. LACMA has a larger-than-life Angkor Vishnu; five alabaster reliefs from Ashurnasirpal II's Nimrud palace; some Roman statues from the Hearst collection, and William Wetmore Story's Cleopatra. There are Rodin bronzes (posthumous) plus abstractions by Brancusi and Giacometti. A bronze Shiva as the Lord of Dance and a Bernini portrait bust rank among the museum's greatest objects. But the for most part LACMA's sculptures are smallish and need to be shown in glazed display cabinets that would be subject to glare from the perimeter windows.
|From Michael Govan's introduction to "Building LACMA"
The LACMA exhibition lays out the Govan/Zumthor philosophy as "a model for the art museum of the twenty-first century." In Govan's own words, the Zumthor building embodies a "shift in LACMA's curatorial strategy from fixed presentations to rotating exhibitions of the permanent collection."
Govan has been saying this for some time. I took him seriously but not literally. I mean, all "permanent" collection installations are temporary in the grand scheme of things, right? I also figured that, with enough space to work with, curators might manage to keep practically all of the greatest hits on view most of the time. Thus Eakins' Wrestlers would be on view, but it might not be in a room of turn-of-the-century American painting.
Rotating exhibitions of a museum's permanent collection aren't a new concept. It's how museums have always showed their light-sensitive art. The Japanese Pavilion, for instance, can't keep Okyo's Cranes or Hokusai's The Great Wave on permanent view, no matter how art-historically important or Instagram-friendly they are.
Oil paint is a Western invention. It puts a thumb on the scale of art history, even in Western museums that aspire to be global. The most famous pictures are oil, tempera, or acrylic, famous because encyclopedic museums can show them on a permanent basis. That future LACMA might challenge this convention, to a degree, is a provocative part of the Govan/Zumthor thesis.
That said: There are logistic challenges to perpetual (re)installation. It takes both money and time to move art. Statues need to be on seismic bases that, by design, resist being moved. The Zumthor building is none too large as it is. How much of it will be cordoned for reinstallation at any given time?
LACMA's collection doesn't have the deep back bench that older encyclopedic museums do. The Metropolitan Museum has 16 Georgia O'Keeffe paintings. It doesn't show them at all once; it rotates them. That's great for New York, which also has prime O'Keeffes in Brooklyn. But LACMA owns exactly one O'Keeffe painting, and it's the only O'Keeffe in any L.A. museum collection. Whenever LACMA's O'Keeffe goes off view, our city misses an important part of the story of American modernism and indeed, of women artists. It's hard to put a positive spin on that.