Govan on the Permanent-ish Collection
|Faith Ringgold, American People's Series #2: Die, 1967. Museum of Modern Art|
My first question was about the time frame. Govan said that, in the current thinking, the permanent collection installations in the Zumthor building would be on view for about three years. In comparison MoMA says that 1/3 of its galleries will be reinstalled every six months. That implies a typical ~18 month-cycle between MoMA reinstallations.
|Eagle-Headed Deity from Ashurnasirpal II's palace, Nimrud, 9th century BC|
"Permanent" is relative. An installation of a typical museum's permanent collection might stay up a decade or two. The typical LACMA time frame would be accelerated relative to that, though about twice as long as MoMA's.
|Georges de La Tour, Magdalene With the Smoking Flame, about 1635-37|
MoMA drawings curator Sarah Suzuki said: "I like to say we’re not in the business of breaking hearts." She meant that the museum shouldn't disappoint those who came to see van Gogh's Starry Night or the Warhol Soup Cans. The most significant, non-light-sensitive works would be on view essentially all the time, barring loans or conservation.
So I asked Govan whether something like Georges de La Tour's Magdalene would go off view? He was emphatic: "Never!" (Adding that Christopher Knight asked the same question.) The Magdalene might be moved within the Zumthor building, but it would always be on view, excepting loans, etc.
I asked about groups of works, such as the extraordinary collection of Spanish Colonial art that LACMA has assembled in recent years. That too would remain on view, Govan said, though the selection might be filtered through a particular installation's premise.
Juxtapositions & Non-Sequiturs
Most MoMA reviews have remarked on the cheeky pairing of Picasso's 1907 Demoiselles with Faith Ringgold's 1967 American People Series #20: Die (top of post). It's a brilliant subversion of art historic hierarchies—or pandering to woke culture—or both.
Would LACMA do that sort of thing? Govan said it would be up to the curators. There has been talk of showing Persian miniatures next to contemporary Iranian art referencing traditional Persian superheroes (something done in 2018's "In the Fields of Empty Days.") But overall the installations are expected to be grounded in scholarship. They would sometimes explore connections between global cultures, a theme of much current interest. As for-instances, Govan mentioned the possibility of an installation on lacquer in East Asia and Latin America; or Baroque art on both sides of the Atlantic.
|Porcelain Saucer Glazed in Imitation of a Fuzhou Chrysamthemum-Shaped Lacquer, China, 1774: José Manuel de la Cerda, Tray, Mexico, about 1760|
The chronologic/cultural lines of demarcation between the older art in the Zumthor building and the modern/contemporary art in BCAM have yet to be determined. In fall 2020 LACMA is to open a new installation of its modern collection, on the top floor of BCAM. Stephanie Barron will curate, and Frank Gehry will design the installation. If well-received, modern art might remain in BCAM.
|Henri Matisse, Tea, 1919|
LACMA v. MoMA
I'm encouraged that LACMA plans to keep major objects on view; that the proposed thematic installations don't sound frivolous or dumbed-down; that the refresh cycle is not too frenetic.
The new programs ask a lot of LACMA's curators—and its collection. MoMA has 57 Matisse paintings. LACMA has one. Should MoMA want to show a dozen Matisses at a given time, it's got options. LACMA either shows Tea or doesn't show any Matisse painting. (Govan mentioned Tea as one of the paintings to be always on view, presumably in BCAM.)
The curators will need to be good at juggling, or maybe working a Rubik's cube. They're being asked to keep the most significant objects on view while fitting them gracefully into ever-changing installations that tell stories that haven't quite been told before. MoMA's curators seem to have pulled it off—for the inaugural installation.
MoMA's permanent collection ought to go through four full refreshes before the Zumthor building opens (about 2024) How well the new scheme plays out at MoMA might be a leading indicator of how manageable is the challenge that LACMA has taken on.