Museums can’t buy a new Louis Vuitton bag every time they want to show off their wealth so instead, they display bling by hiring big-name architects to create new and shiny, glass-filled galleries. LACMA will be joining this popularity game with a planned $650 million expansion by the Pritzker prize-winning architect Peter Zumthor. $450 will be allotted for construction with the remaining $200 million set aside for administrative expenses and contingency.
The exact timeline for construction, according to the Los Angeles Times, will be unveiled next month, and throughout the summer, architectural renderings will be in the museum’s forthcoming exhibition The Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA. Current plans call for four of the museum’s buildings to be demolished. They will be replaced by Zumthor’s teardrop design, a glass-walled structure inspired by the La Brea Tar Pits. While the the teardrop proposal remains vastly different from LACMA’s blocky, sand-colored homebase, the square footage of the interior galleries will remain approximately the same.
That’s too bad for a museum which lays claim to over 100,000 artworks; a true expansion would need to keep that in mind, as it could open up greater opportunities for curators to show more of LACMA’s collection, and for growing its audience. This is a remodel, not a full-fledged expansion.
That’s one downside to LACMA’s long-term vision. In the short-term, LACMA’s remodel will very likely cause other setbacks. Once the demolition begins, galleries will close and artworks will move off-site, leaving a shell of the former museum with slimmer attendance numbers and fewer staff members. In 2000, MoMA employees went on strike, fearing similarly disastrous effects during that museum’s architectural expansion. After four months of debate, the well-publicized strike ended, resulting in the prevention of layoffs planned during the MoMA’s 2002-04 closure.
Layoffs, though, seem likely with SFMOMA’s expansion, which will begin this summer. For three years, SFMOMA will close its doors due to construction. The administration admits to impending layoffs they attribute to lost ticket sales. LACMA might be able to avoid a lengthy closure and vast staff reductions with a $200 million contingency, but so far, their remodel looks like little more than a pricey update.