County supervisors voted unanimously today to award $117.5 million—the remaining balance of a total $125 million contribution—and certify the environmental impact report for a total redesign of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
“LACMA must be allowed to chart its path, lead its growth, and protect its collection,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.
Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss architect Peter Zumthor’s design for the new Miracle Mile campus would take the form of a long, irregularly shaped horizontal gallery raised on columns on either side of Wilshire Boulevard.
That bridge-like design has been skewered by art and architecture critics at Curbed and the Los Angeles Times, mainly due to concerns about how well a skybridge would draw museum visitors up into the space while preserving sidewalk accessibility to people who are using Wilshire below.
But it has its supporters, including Diane Keaton and Brad Pitt, who spoke at this morning’s hearing, praising Zumthor’s portfolio.
“This architect, Mr. Zumthor, has been honored with 16 awards,” said Diane Keaton, name-checking the Pritzker and RIBA. “So if you were an actor, that means you would have won 14 Academy Awards, which is never going to happen. So I think we’re sitting pretty.”
Zumthor’s design has undergone a number of changes since it was first revealed in renderings in 2016. But only renderings—not floor plans or models, which would give a more tangible sense of the structure’s scale—have been released for the latest iteration.
“You’re being asked to approve over $100 million for a building we’re not allowed to see,” artist Oscar Peña said.
Critics also take issue with the shrinking the overall space for the museum, but LACMA director Michael Govan defended that decision, saying the museum is growing into the community and into schools and at satellite campuses.
“There have been questions raised about whether this facility is large enough. It is,” Govan said. “We’ll have 220,000 square feet of exhibition space right over Wilshire Boulevard. That is a big museum… for me, that is the right size for LACMA.”
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl strongly supported the project, saying that the idea of the museum’s expansion into satellites stood in contrast to the outdated idea of an “encyclopedic art institute” in one place that county residents have to travel, sometimes long distances, to access.
“I think the vision of LACMA to share its collections does not diminish but rather enhances its stature in Los Angeles County,” Kuehl said.
The board also voted to issue $300 million in bond proceeds. That money will work as a kind of loan, with LACMA repaying the money through private donations.
The county funds represent a significant piece of the puzzle for the project, which is expected to cost at least $650 million.