Lucas Museum Promises to Reboot Exposition Park

Lucas Museum of Narrative Art under construction, Sep. 6, 2022. Photo by Sand Hill Media / Eric Furle. (c) JAKS Productions

On Tuesday the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art held a hard-hat media tour of its Ma Yansong building. The headline news is that the opening has been moved up again, to 2025. Blame that on the supply chain. The better news is that the building and its site look increasingly impressive. A few of the curved, fiberglass-reinforced exterior panels have been installed, giving an idea of the ultimate effect. A park space to the south of the museum, by Mia Lehrer, has been planted with drought-tolerant landscaping. Two hundred trees, a future urban forest, are being acclimated on site. Meanwhile the Lucas collection continues to grow, in size and presumably seriousness. 

In fact, the latest tranche of Lucas news prompted an editorial in the Chicago Tribune. Chicago had been George Lucas and Mellody Hobson's first choice for their museum, but objections to the lakeside site led to the move to L.A. As the Tribune's editorial board put it, "The Lucas Museum is looking better and better. What an error Chicago made."

Facade panel installation. Photo by Roberto Gomez. Photo courtesy of USC School of Cinematic Arts. (c) 2022 JAKS Productions
Landscaping to south of museum. Photo by Hunter Kerhart. (c) 2022 Lucas Museum of Narrative Art

The Park. My main takeaway is that the Lucas will be a big upgrade for Exposition Park. Over the past century, the park's component institutions have expanded their galleries on a piecemeal basis, but there have rarely been funds for big architectural statements, park upgrades, or improving the circulation. Even the current and ambitious construction projects at the Natural History Museum and the California Science Center don't seem to change that. The Lucas promises to serve as a front door to the park, enhancing the connection to the neighborhood. The museum building itself offers a walk-through entrance arch, likened to a tree canopy, that is welcoming whether one is visiting the Lucas Museum (or any museum). The new garden will complement NHMLA's Nature Gardens and the venerable Rose Garden. The Lucas Museum's roof will be part of the park as well, with plantings and a walking route covering about half the perimeter. 

Ironically, Chicagoans were concerned that a new museum would reduce precious park space. The proposed sites in Chicago and L.A. share one feature: Both were parking lots. As the Tribune notes, the Chicago site still is.

Oculus. Photo by Roberto Gomez. Photo courtesy of USC School of Cinematic Arts. (c) 2022 JAKS Productions

The Oculus. Every museum has an oculus now. The Lucas Museum's oculus looks like the people-eater alien in Nope. (I know, wrong franchise. "Death Star" is taken.) Those entering the park from 39th Street will be able to look up and catch a glance of sky. For Lucas visitors, the glass-lined oculus will provide views and an orientation point in the 4th-floor galleries. 

Rendering (with waterfall at lower left). Courtesy LMNA

The Waterfall. The Museum's north side will have a "fountain" that the architects swear uses less water and energy than not having a fountain. The water feature is integral to the AC system and is claimed to be more water-efficient than a standard cooling tower.

I can't vouch for the engineering details. I can say that the under-construction fountain looks to be something between a Calabasas celeb's swimming pool and a waterpark attraction. 

The Hanging Garden. There will be a Babylonian vibe on the opposite side of the museum, with garden vines cascading from pockets in sculptural walls and trellises. 

Library under construction. Photo by Roberto Gomez. Photo courtesy of USC School of Cinematic Arts. (c) 2022 JAKS Productions
The Library. The museum will have a sleek, wood-lined three-story library with no real parallel in L.A. In renderings (not released), it's something like the great libraries of Europe with elements of theatrical fantasy. Here's what it looks like now. Note the Juliette balcony on the third level, center right.
Roof construction. Photo by Roberto Gomez. Photo courtesy of USC School of Cinematic Arts. (c) 2022 JAKS Productions
Rendering of nighttime street view from Vermont Blvd.

Galleries. Ma's five-story building is shaped like an 8 (or infinity), with a smaller southern loop largely devoted to education and the library. Some 100,000 sf of exhibition space span three floors, most of it (82,000 sf) on the fourth floor.

For comparison, that's twice the exhibition space of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (50,000 sf) and nearly that of LACMA's future permanent collection building (109,000 sf). The Lucas Museum is about 300,000 sf overall, with generous lobbies, a cafe, a restaurant, a gift shop, two 299-seat theaters, and a fifth-floor party space. The latter has city views at least equal to those of the Academy Museum's sphere.

Lucas Cranach the Elder. Judgment of Solomon, 1526. Private collection, on loan to Princeton University Art Museum
The High-Low Collection. The Lucas continues to build its collection. Newly announced is the acquisition of a 1526 Judgment of Solomon by Lucas Cranach the Elder. No image was supplied, but a 1526 Solomon was recently on loan to Princeton's Art Museum from an unidentified private collection. A better-known version, dated 1537, is in Berlin's Gemäldegalerie.  
John Singer Sargent, Las Meninas, after Veláquez, 1879. Lucas Museum of Narrative Art
No, George Lucas didn't buy this from the Prado. It's John Singer Sargent's assured 1879 copy of Velásquez's Las Meninas, not a bad souvenir of the late 19th-century fascination with the great Spaniard's art. Santa Barbara has Sargent's take on Cellini's Perseus, and this is of comparable interest.
Winsor McCay, America First, about 1910. Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions
Donald Trump wasn't the first American to proclaim "America first." The slogan was adopted by Woodrow Wilson, William Randolph Hearst, and the Ku Klux Klan. Winsor McCay, best known for the proto-modern comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland, also did political cartoons. The Lucas' ink and graphite drawing measures 16.25 by 11 in. 
Bernie Wrightson, wraparound cover for Marvel graphic novel edition of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein, 1983. Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. (c) 2021 Bernie Wrightson / ARS, New York. Image courtesy of Profiles in History
Bernie Wrightson (1948-2017), master of horror comics, was the creator of Swamp Thing. This drawing, touted as the artist's "undisputed masterpiece," sold for a record $1.2 million in 2019. Explained the artist: "I’ve always had a thing for Frankenstein, and it was a labor of love."
Rafael Navarro, illustration for Sonámbulo: Sleep of the Just, no. 1, 1996. Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. (c) Rafael Navarro
Rafael Navarro's Sonámbulo is a Mexican wrestler who falls in with the Mob, acquires superpowers, and turns supernatural detective. The series is notable for blending an L.A. Noir sensibility with the culture of Lucha Libre. 
Ernie Barnes, The Drum Major, 2003. Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. (c) Ernie Barnes Family Trust, photographed by Jeff McLane. Courtesy of UTA Artist Space and the Estate of Ernie Barnes
It was rumored the Lucases were outbid for Ernie Barnes' Sugar Shack (which went for $15.3 million this past May). No word on that, but the Lucas collection now has a dozen works by Barnes, including this 2003 Drum Major.

In 2018 Hank Willis Thomas and collaborators reimagined Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms (at Massachusetts' Norman Rockwell Museum) as photographs with a more diverse cast. They ended up producing 82 versions of Rockwell's four paintings. The results speak to the uncanny valleys of E pluribus unum and art and life. Is there ever a photograph, a moment, where everybody is smiling?
Hank Willis Thomas and Emily Shur with Eric Gottesman and Wyatt Gallery of For Freedoms, Four Freedoms II, 2018. Lucas Museum of Narrative Art


Anonymous said…
The Lucas probably will be a nice intro to the visual arts for people indifferent about or less interested in traditional art museums---whether encyclopedic or modern/contemporary.

I notice that both the Lucas and LACMA/Zumthor/Govan will be on raised platforms. But the one going over Wilshire Blvd will cast a freeway-overpass-type shadow on the street and sidewalks.

However, LACMA really did need to redo its Periera/Hardy-Holzman buildings. After visiting Louvre World in Paris, Florida (oops, make that France), I fully realize that. But the fact the Zumthor concrete platform won't be much larger for general-category LACMA than Ma's design is for specialty-narrative Lucas, and that LACMA lacks George's deep pockets, the tax-supported museum very well may end up being a big headache. A headache also vulnerable to issues with post-Covid shortages, post-Covid delays and post-Covid inflation.

Michael, your lack of transparency in the world of non-profit organizations, even more so in late 2022, is a big no-no.

The renderings of finished project and landscaping are delicious. If I squint, it could be a love letter to the master Zaha Hadid.
Pity poor Chicago.
Anonymous said…
^^^It's curious how people see Hadid in his work. Because whenever I see a Hadid or a Yansong building, I see E. Saarinen and every possible iteration of the TWA Terminal or Ingalls Rink.

As to the building itself, it's a welcome public monument. Is it a great work of architecture, I don't know. For me, its complexity comes off as inauthentic. For example, the skin of the building creates the form of the building. There is thus no inherent relationship between the inside and outside of the building.
Jinghe New City Culture & Art Centre. Mic drop.

In re Lucas pushing its completion date: the prize for interminable construction goes to Antwerp.

Per NYT: "After an 11-year closure, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium, reopens with a bright new space for modern art."


Any road, it opens this week and I'm going in a few weeks to see it.

I hope the wait will have been worth it.