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THE MONOMANIA OF MICHAEL GOVAN – OR – HOW TO FLATTEN A MONUMENT AND FLATLINE HISTORY WITHOUT A BOMB

I confess that I’m unsure why I notably care, or at what level I may need begun to see this as one thing bigger than merely the lack of a theatre or auditorium area (i.e., LACMA’s Bing Theatre, which was a part of the original LACMA complicated), or the razing of a few once-significant museum areas. The 1986 Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer additions all the time struck me as ungainly and oppressive, with the varied bridge/escalator configurations throughout the central courtyard undoubtedly super-charging Michael Govan’s obsession with single-story museum buildings.

I felt more bemused than alarmed when it was first proposed that the projected museum footprint cross Wilshire Boulevard into the Spaulding Avenue parking zone across from the east campus entrance. That was when Govan and his chosen architect, Peter Zumthor have been morphing from what I now discuss with as their initial “Jetsons” part, to a considerably streamlined “Gumby” incarnation.   I’ve to ask myself why “Gumby” seemed friendlier. Definitely it appeared extra pliable. However perhaps this refers back to problems with my very own obsessions. Then, too, because the Zumthor workplace had then proposed puncturing the roof in a dozen locations, it additionally appeared more real looking, and opened the door to a potential future second story. This was not to final.

One vital turning point was the Perenchio “promised” present of 47 works (principally work, principally Submit-Impressionist) valued then at as much as $500 million, contingent upon the development of Govan’s new museum building which would presumably home them. Govan’s blather on the time about “completing the story” of Impressionism, seems much more absurd now, because the solely story-telling permitted in the projected galleries can be a cut-and-paste version with a lot of the scholarship relegated to the Selection constructing across the street. It was one thing out of a Marx Brothers film, with Govan in the Groucho position all however tap-dancing his jubilation before a Busby Berkeley refrain line. “We’re in the money,” was the theme of the day, however even then you definitely sensed a dark Godfather undercurrent.

However finally, at the least where Govan was concerned, it hardly mattered, because, nevertheless briefly, he had succeeded in pulling our eyes away from the place the actual maneuvering was happening, which was with the County of Los Angeles and its Board of Supervisors and employees. $25, $50, and $100 million dollars have been candy pickings; however $425 million was actual cash—the sort of cash it’s essential to tear up Wilshire Boulevard and half the LACMA campus. He was fortunate to have a pliant and well-connected Board to help him connect the pieces.

I vaguely associated an oppressively desolate café he installed instead of the restaurant and bar that when occupied the east campus—once so convenient to the Bing Theatre when you needed a coffee or martini on the fly—together with his gutting of the movie program Ian Birnie successfully curated for years before Govan fired him. It tended to push me via the Ahmanson wing—that a lot maligned construction, refurbished and reconfigured a variety of occasions, by no means totally efficiently—whether or not or not I was headed in that course. But that wasn’t it either.

In contrast to Michael Govan, appeal is one factor the Ahmanson wing by no means had. It isn’t unhandsome as such buildings go. It appeared at the time of my first encounter, which should have been someday in 1969, snug and well-appointed, although not essentially the sort of setting that may have occurred to me as a museum or art gallery area. But then I already had an concept of what museum areas should appear to be—from the natural historical past museums of each New York and Chicago, from the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork in New York and the Artwork Institute of Chicago. This seemed extra just like the sort of bureaucratic or instructional construction I’d affiliate with a state school—not in contrast to the state school I lived within walking distance of. But none of that basically mattered as a result of I used to be there to take a look at artwork. There have been some excellent French and Italian paintings; and I keep in mind being notably struck by an exhibition of (principally French?) drawings. I was not essentially going to be blown away by something I’d see right here; however there was a lot to see and study from. And I didn’t even know methods to drive then, so wasn’t it nice just to get there or have a place like that to sneak away to whereas our mother and father thought we have been looking for faculty garments at Ohrbach’s and the Might Company a block over at Fairfax.

It was a modest proposal; and on the time I don’t assume it ever deterred my brother or me from eager to get again to New York where the actual world appeared to buzz at a better wattage. This was the structure of that modest proposal, a sort of civic-minded angle born out of post-war paperwork, progressive politics (cultural politics, too), with a nod to retail values. (My older brother and I used to joke that the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion reminded us of a flowery automotive showroom, regardless of the apparent incontrovertible fact that Lincoln Middle adopted an identical template.) However out of such modest proposals, schooling and some modest prosperity was being successfully delivered to a bigger proportion of the population than has ever been delivered since.

There isn’t any such thing as a ‘modest’ monument. Museum buildings virtually all the time make grand ‘statements’; whether or not or not they begin as monuments, they veer in that path, although what ensures that standing is their worth as repositories of great artwork (a minimum of libraries, live performance halls or theatres devoted to nice books, music and performances). There would have been no struggle to protect Carnegie Corridor without virtually common consciousness of its nice legacy. However solely in current many years have we begun to see museums, notably museums of up to date art as monuments. The most effective example of this is nonetheless undoubtedly the Guggenheim Bilbao, although there have been a number of attempts since to rekindle a few of that glamour. I typically marvel if half the impetus behind the Broad Museum was Eli Broad’s dissatisfaction with the comparative discretion of Renzo Piano’s BCAM with respect to its placement on the LACMA campus. He needed a press release and he needed it seen and heard.

Hedging the very real prospect of a considerably shrunken museum for the everlasting assortment, Govan has been quick to say the BCAM structure as a portion of the square footage of exhibition area added to the campus underneath his watch, however it must be recalled that BCAM was already in progress when he assumed the directorship, with modern art its outlined mission. What is extra exceptional is how unmonumental the current and eventually permitted model of the Zumthor challenge now seems. It is considerably much less imposing when it comes to its elevation, though it’s going to nonetheless cross Wilshire onto Spaulding. In yet one more irony, it has assumed all the presence and character of a suburban department retailer (or, given its elevation above the road degree, an airport terminal). Its most salient aesthetic traits are its flatness and its dog-legged spread (the Los Angeles Occasions’ Carolina Miranda has in contrast it to a moose antler). Though Govan has demonstrated a deft hand for manufacturing unit/warehouse scale conversions, the challenge by no means had that character, whether as a vessel of sunshine or when it comes to fluid spatial movement. As far as precise department retailer conversions go, he was easily persuaded to lease out the Might Firm area to the Academy of Movement Image Arts & Sciences for 55 years, while the Ohrbach’s that was once instantly throughout the street from it was way back transformed to the Petersen Museum.

However then Peter Zumthor’s fame has by no means precisely been for the monumental gesture. Govan has made some declare for this as the suitable second for Zumthor to make a press release of this scope; and perhaps it’s—which is not to say the Los Angeles Fairfax/Miracle/Museum Mile is the fitting location for it. But—setting apart the difficulty of the selection course of (or extra accurately pre-selection process, since there wasn’t any)—can we even make sure that is actually Zumthor’s statement at all? How easily Zumthor may need welcomed the problem of constructing one thing over and around, say, the Bing complicated, as he had built over and around the fragments of an historic church in Cologne (the Kolumba Museum). It could be seen from this angle how the notion of puncturing that flat roof with double or triple-height areas may actually have been Zumthor’s personal. However this was not the imaginative and prescient in the desert Govan got here to California with.

Maybe the closest Govan has come to attaining his ‘vision’ has been with Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass. What else do you name a platformed, single-level structure? The sculpture that you simply truly stroll beneath, catching a glimpse of the Variety Constructing simply down the road and overhead. It was no small logistical feat to convey that boulder down Wilshire and around to the LACMA campus—in other words, a perfect trailer and gown rehearsal for the Nightmare on Wilshire Boulevard set to begin early next yr. We actually shouldn’t converse of this as the Zumthor challenge. It’s Govan’s challenge, his fixation, his obsession; and we will either view it as a sadly diminished one or a conceit that rises to the extent of hubris.

You’d should have a heart of stone to not giggle a bit at the title of Govan’s Monday op-ed in the Los Angeles Occasions. When Govan shouldn’t be dancing via his ‘alternate’ value estimates and exhibition area breakdowns or his rosy fiscal outlook, he’s doubling down on his ‘vision’. Now right here he was, regardless of all proof on the contrary, reasserting the “visionary” high quality of his terminal pancake museum that was “big enough,” underscoring the truth that it could not be expanded. The extension across Wilshire Boulevard seemed extra like an overpass than ever; and the director’s now acquainted “edifice complex” was threatening to turn into an Oedipus complicated at its terminal self-blinding stage.

On the Board of Supervisors meeting the next Tuesday morning, the only self-blinding (or at the least blinders) in proof seemed to have been carried out by the Supervisors themselves. There have been pals and other journalists there, some to report (Jori Finkel’s coverage went up that afternoon on The New York Occasions website; Deborah Vankin’s adopted some hours later), some to easily observe the proceedings; none, as far as I used to be conscious, notably enthusiastic. I had solely spoken to at least one journalist over the week-end who was truly in help of the undertaking. Govan was there with a phalanx of staffers, allies, and supporters. Extra disquieting was what appeared to be a full-blown schmooze-fest with Govan among the many Supes in progress even before the meeting formally commenced. The environment was, if not celebratory, self-congratulatory. Govan was joined in his remaining assertion before the Board by the L.A. Pure Historical past Museum‘s director, Lori Bettison-Varga—I couldn’t assume why, even after she spoke; the Supervisors have been pretty open about their inclination to approve the FEIR and Govan’s last “Zumthor” proposal. However that, too, I saw was a part of the ‘process’ here. Between the politicos and museum professionals here, there was enough log-rolling to provide a sawmill.

The phrase, ‘assumes facts not in evidence’ occurred to me as I listened to Michael Govan tick off a couple of talking points whereas thanking the Board of Supervisors and County staffers for their collaboration in the planning course of and design/environmental influence clearances main as much as approval. I hesitate to call them ‘lies.’ I have little question there were some thought-about arithmetical calculations behind every revision. ‘Oh wait, if I factor in….’ — fill within the blanks. Govan may simply call them ‘alternate calculations’—which must be the term applicable to the defective Ultimate Environmental Impression Report, about which neither Govan nor the Supervisors cared the slightest; or the decreased usable gallery area and wall show space, however each the Los Angeles Occasions’ Christopher Knight’s and architect-critic Joseph Giovannini’s repeated corrections and verification relating to the discrepancies; or per square-foot development prices—additionally completely vetted by Knight and Giovannini. However in his ebullience, Govan couldn’t resist sinking nonetheless deeper within the mire, dredging up the now infamous Jerrold Perenchio donation charade, as if to remind the Supervisors that, having raised an enormous ‘building-related’ donation before, he’d haven’t any drawback elevating the $50-100 million he was going to wish to complete the challenge. And given the truth that he was about to stroll away with more than $400 million, who might doubt him? I needed to give him credit for sheer chutzpah.

However it was fairly obvious that each one of many Supervisors was merely lapping it up. With the relatively few of us who spoke to voice our opposition to the challenge, it was clear that they have been perplexed that we even bothered. (Which echoed what a PR pal of mine had relayed to me from one of many Supervisor’s staffers only the day earlier than: “Stop your campaigning already. The vote’s a done deal!”)

I used to be definitely able to. ‘Campaigning’ shouldn’t be something that comes naturally to me (until we’re speaking about campaign furniture). But as Lou Reed may need put it once upon a time, ‘these are different times’. There’s more at stake than merely a mediocre motel of a museum and even the wholesale disruption of the museum’s organization and scholarship. Govan won’t be there beyond or probably even earlier than the undertaking’s completion. However in his willful gutting of a core cultural institution, his imposition of mediocrity upon its edifice and its wasteful disruption of the city material, he was committing an act of grandiosity that insulted the progressive political values that had enabled the institution’s creation and desecrating its physical legacy.

Coincidentally, in the days leading up to the hearing, I had been revisiting a few of ‘those’ occasions, when LACMA’s Miracle Mile campus was nonetheless in its infancy, and I used to be more more likely to visit a movie studio backlot (or Canter’s) than a museum within the Fairfax neighborhood. 1969 was a yr of fracturing transitions far beyond my scope—for Los Angeles particularly, within the political order for the country as an entire, in modern pop music and culture, and in artwork. More usually it was a interval of cultural unmooring—something it might have in widespread with the culture and politics of the current moment.

Both politically and culturally, it was apparent that there was a disaster of which means that in turn engendered a disaster of values; and vice-versa. This was mirrored within the artwork of those years, from post-Warhol Pop, via Minimalism and the early Conceptualists. In many ways the political and cultural legacies of the late 1960s and early 1970s set in motion forces which are with us at present.

I perceive—to some extent—Mr. Govan’s strategy to the museum, or (I ought to say) philosophy of artwork. I mean that with some respect as I feel it is grounded in an actual philosophy of artwork that has been articulated by a lot of critics and philosophers for whose work I have some respect, together with for instance, the late Arthur Danto. It means within the post-modern, modern era, as Danto places it “a notion of strategy, style, and agenda.” You would virtually say this applies to Mr. Govan’s complete modus operandi in operating the museum. It has had notable successes. Additionally, just lately, as Christopher Knight has pointed out within the Los Angeles Occasions, critical failures.

Danto’s thesis relating to “The End of Art” (additional developed in After the Finish of Art and subsequent defenses) was vital as the start line of a discussion about the best way we produce and take a look at art in the 21st century. It was additionally grounded in a deep understanding and respect for the history of artwork, which in Govan’s proposal both for the museum’s physical format, and his non-departmental curatorial strategy to the Permanent Collection, is hobbled, if not abandoned altogether. However even Danto’s “end” or “after the end” thesis was in some respects incomplete, as a result of regardless whether we’ve come to “the End” of art, or some point ‘after’, per se, we’ve not come to the top of time. We do not escape historical past—as historical past is gravely reminding us in recent times. Nor as we are reminded in recent times, can we escape the planet’s historical past and that of the biosphere we share—information which should give us further pause in making selections like these with far-reaching consequences for a city and a whole region.

The occasion for revisiting 1969 Los Angeles got here by means of Lars Jan’s staging of Joan Didion’s The White Album. Jan and his collaborator, Mia Barron, have been each engaged by Didion’s controlled narrative taking shape in discontinuous fragments reflecting both the destabilizing social, cultural and political currents of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the strain and challenge of creating sense of them. The efficiency was based mostly solely on the title essay and I advised that they could think of layering in a couple of fragments from different essays and reportage within the anthology to flesh out the context and the tectonics of the shifting order and ethos underneath Didion’s shut remark.

And all of the sudden I had a sense of who Michael Govan could be. In declaring his absurdly horizontal, shockingly mediocre “Zumthor” museum for the LACMA everlasting assortment “big enough,” giving himself implicit permission to store or disperse the collection as he may see match, and unilaterally endorsing his own “vision,” Govan resembled no one so much as the one-time Episcopalian Bishop of California, James Pike, who proclaimed (“in the name of God”) San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral “finished,” which as Didion famous, appeared to be “an extreme missing of the point.”

Let’s not underestimate the symbolic worth of such a monument at an urban crossroads—even one that appears like a motel (contemplate Hitchcock’s unsettling incarnation of such a place in Psycho). This isn’t a gesture of “inclusion.” In flattening and closing off the Museum, Govan kind of announced his intention to flatten and shut off the historical past of artwork, challenging not its cultural hierarchies but the layering of time and history itself, its geographical and bodily placement, the scholarly consideration of its authors and the circumstances of its making. Past problems with taste or aesthetics, architectural landmarks turn into emblematic of our regard for history, of our values and ethos.

In her essay, “James Pike, American,” Didion describes a socially formidable, superficially ingratiating, however pathologically narcissistic character, whose approach of coping with past failures or the casualties of his relationships was a sort of nullification of the ‘petty details’ of its historical past. I presume no judgment of Michael Govan’s psychological character right here, although sooner or later, like Didion’s grandmother, I may be inclined to name him “just a damn old fool.” The artwork museum has historically been a spot the place we privileged those ‘petty details’, the place we let them ‘breathe’. Definitely the shortage of transparency in Govan’s pursuit of the flattened art museum constitutes an excessive breach of belief to match his ‘missing of the point’. However whether or not the Anthropocene puts an end to all of us before the top of the century, our demise won’t rewrite or nullify its history. To presume to foreclose the close consideration of that trace to future generations reduces the flattened museum to the scene of a cultural crime.