THE LA TIMES RECEIVED AND PUBLISHED READER LETTERS IN RESPONSE TO RECENT ARTICLES REGARDING THE NEW LACMA DESIGN. HEAR THEIR VOICES:

Regarding art critic Christopher Knight’s “LACMA Loses Major Donor” [Feb. 26]: 

"LACMA’s director Michael Govan is completely tone deaf regarding any constructive criticism of this vanity project.

The building (replacing four other buildings) is inadequate to house LACMA’s encyclopedic collection, but that hasn’t deterred Govan. Maybe the Ahmanson Foundation pulling its support (which has taken decades to cultivate) is what it will take to put a halt to this fiasco."  Mindy Taylor-Ross, Venice

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"Architects tend not to criticize other architects’ work (maybe professional courtesy or fear of payback), but Christopher Knight’s article compels me to speak out against the ill-advised design for LACMA. 

Quite aside from the serious concerns he and others have raised about the budget, size and limited collection display, this monotonous monolith will be an architectural lemon both inside and out.

Hovering over Wilshire Boulevard and Hancock Park, it will cast permanent shade over an increasingly lively section of the street and the park, creating a dark and oppressive space akin to the underside of a major freeway. The hermetically sealed interiors will offer no relief for the art-weary eyes and feet in the form of courtyards, balconies or other outdoor spaces that could take advantage of our benign climate and the wonderful park next door. The Getty Museum experience proves the value of such outdoor interludes.

These flaws are all due to the original misconception that the museum must be all on one level in order to avoid some dread hierarchy of display. I know of no major encyclopedic museum in the world that is on one level, and plenty of wonderful two- and three-story institutions where no one’s experience or appreciation is harmed by changing a level or two. Quite the contrary, think of the grand stairs of the Met, the Louvre, Pompidou’s escalators and others. The list is long.

Please, County Supervisors and LACMA Board, send this one back to the drawing board before the wrecking ball starts swinging."  Alex Ward, Santa Monica

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"Bravo to the Ahmanson Foundation for cutting off funds to LACMA to be used to purchase art that will remain in storage for several years. Having great art in storage, is like giving a child a birthday present, but saying it can only be played with every few years."  Mark Elinson, Los Angeles

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"How hideous. It looks like a Motel 6."  Lydia Milars, Los Angeles

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"Readers of art critic Christopher Knight’s piece that appeared in print on Ash Wednesday must have been startled at how he describes the preeminent Rembrandt work in the LACMA collection. The Raising of Lazarus, according to Knight, is a scene “in which a corpse comes back to life.” There’s a little more to it than that, as can be seen in the background of the painting, where Jesus Christ is depicted reviving Lazarus from death, in what was the final miracle he performed before his own imminent Passion and resurrection. When the paper characterizes a scene from the Holy Gospel that perfunctory way, it is what Catholic readers might call a sin of omission."  Jim McCarthy, New York City

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"Kudos to the Ahmanson Foundation for exposing the glaring problem with the new LACMA intentions and building. I have been a member of LACMA since it was housed in the Natural History Museum building and have enjoyed the collections ever since. I viewed with alarm the first renderings of the new building and shared concerns that a black roofed building would have enormous air conditioning costs. 

What does a Swiss architect know about L.A. weather?"  Meg Quinn Coulter , Los Angeles

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"The Ahmanson Foundation’s withdrawal of its patronage is only the tip of the iceberg. The 67% reduction of gallery space in the planned “Titanic” of a new building will sink the museum’s acquisition hopes across the board. 

This building plan must be stopped and Michael Govan should go. It’s not too late yet, but it will be too late very soon." John Sherwood, Topanga

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"It’s been clear for years that LACMA’s proposed redesign does not support its fundamental mission, and, in fact, severely undercuts it. 

What keeps LACMA’s powers that be from rethinking their decision? Is it inertia, group-think, bloody-stupid leadership or sheer arrogant stubbornness not to listen to people trying to warn them that they’re headed over a cliff? 

Once their redo is embodied in tons of concrete and steel, it’ll remain a monument to squandered opportunity and blithely boneheaded ineptitude for a very long time."  Elle Kranen, Carlsbad

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"All of Los Angeles should yell a huge and collective: “Not on our watch.”  Who is Michael Govan to not just snub but also bite the hand that has fed LACMA for longer than he has been alive?  What sort of board of directors give carte blanche to someone to cut the artery of one of the most important cultural institutions in Los Angeles for the sake of building a structure that will just serve to feed an ego. 

The buildings at LACMA are old, yes, outdated, yes and in need of repair, yes. However, there are many more older more decrepit houses of public art on this planet that manage to remake themselves into current and viable destinations for the art viewing public to partake of their patrimony.  Buckingham Palace and Versailles are way older than these midcentury structures and they are still functioning as the cultural treasures that belong to the public."  Kene J. Rosa, Los Angeles

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"I write this letter with a heavy heart. As a resident of this city for seven decades and being involved in the arts as a gallery owner, collector and a museum curator of over 40 exhibitions all over the country, it is depressing to see the decline of LACMA. 

The museum lost important donations in the past due to mismanagement (the Edward G. Robinson collection, part of the Billy Wilder collection and others). Under the leadership of Govan, the museum has a director who has no respect for the past, has an abysmal knowledge of the history of art and is engaged in trying to satisfy his ego with this senseless design. Instead of increasing exhibition space, we are getting a building with lots of glass walls upon which you cannot hang paintings. The bridge over a busy street does not make any sense in earthquake-prone Southern California. We have a bottomless money pit with no end in its cost.

Now, we have a great benefactor, the Ahmanson Foundation, withdrawing its support from the museum. All these problems can be solved by removing Govan and his architect."  Adam Mekler, Pasadena

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Re: “LACMA Loses a Major Donor” by Christopher Knight [ Feb. 26]:

"No major museum displays only a few classic paintings at a time around a “theme” while storing the rest. Can you imagine the Louvre or the Met hiding most of the works that tourists and residents expect to see? LACMA signed an agreement with the Ahmanson Foundation long ago, and I don’t blame the foundation one bit for not going along with LACMA’s new plan. To me it seems like LACMA wants to make the museum more like a website or theme park ride."  Susan Newell, San Diego

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Re: “LACMA Caught Teardown Bug” by Sam Lubell [Feb. 23]:

"Have Los Angeles City and Los Angeles County officials taken leave of their senses for allowing this narcissistic/elitist plan for replacement of the current LACMA complex? Have they never heard of renovation or upgrading?

The egregiousness of taking on mounting debt that taxpayers will be obligated to pay is untenable.

The voters of the City and County of Los Angeles sensibly voted in propositions to alleviate the homeless problem.
At a time for attention to dire humane needs, how can city and county officials spend their time and in good conscience approve this project? Hopefully the voters of Los Angeles will take notice of this atrocious lack of leadership at the voting [booth] this week and in coming elections."  Joann Duray, Playa del Rey

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"You ask if LACMA can afford its new building. I wonder if L.A. County can. Sure, I could complain that Zumthor’s design looks like a cat hairball, but my bigger objection concerns the arrogant wastefulness of the county funding this sprawling one-story design during a historic homelessness crisis.

Why not require the museum to build a high-rise, let Michael Govan take as much space as he needs for both art and offices, and devote the rest of the building to subsidized housing? That would be a real work of art."  Joel Ronkin, Los Angeles

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"By substantially reducing gallery space and, apparently, planning to rotate or “curate” the bulk of the permanent collection, the museum is stepping back from the proper function of an encyclopedic, major-city art museum in favor of what looks like a dumbed-down attempt to pander to the occasional visitor at the expense of the true soul of a museum — the art lover, the person who comes often and enjoys revisiting great works or discovering new, unnoticed treasures.

Creative curation is obviously an important function for any museum, but this smacks of arrogance, as if to say, “we’ll tell you what to like.”

Time to pause, raise more money, and build a two-story structure. It’s not so hard to take an escalator up one floor. At the Broad, it’s even kind of fun."  Alan Holleb, Santa Monica

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"The costs that are never mentioned in the projections for Zumthor’s “Motel 6” over Wilshire to replace the existing LACMA buildings are the huge ongoing costs of both storing and protecting the precious works of art. Both of these expenses will be ever more costly for future generations.

It should be remembered that LACMA is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Not the Los Angeles Celebrity Museum of Art.

Michael Govan, his board of trustees and the others responsible, including the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, would be well advised to remember this and fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities.

LACMA does not need another ode to architecture; it needs a big box with a big basement to serve the needs of our encyclopedic art collection. It needs curatorial and administrative offices, and laboratories for preparation, restoration and preservation of the large variety of art objects in the collection. It needs spaces for both instructive classes and entertaining presentations such as are shown now in the Bing Auditorium. It needs security, not expensive scattered storage.

Many institutions with comparable missions and collections offer excellent examples of how to meld the old buildings with the new, to expand, protect the collections and continue the art availability to the public. Among these are the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., and the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. The past Huntington president, Steve Goblick, is on record as stating that local contractor O.K. Earl builds what we need and that the Huntington will never build another building without a huge basement to meet the ongoing needs of storage and maintenance of our collections.

In case L.A. Times readers do not know, the new entrance garden covers 9,000 square feet of library storage at the Huntington. While the Huntington Mansion remains very much as it was when Henry and Arabella lived there, the library has been expanded seven times and the American Art Building expanded at least five times without taking significant exhibitions away from the public. It can be done and there are many examples for LACMA to follow.

So please, L.A. Times leadership and readership, help stop the madness that will, for many years, closet most of the LACMA collections and saddle future L.A. County residents with needless, astronomic expense."  Phyllis Specht, Pasadena

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"When my husband was a young teenager in the 1950s East London, he would take a bus into the city to the (now) Tate Britain. He said at that time the art museum was crammed with works. He spent hours studying them, reluctantly going home. Later, in the ’60s when we met, he was so disappointed that museums started to design interiors — spotlighting works and sadly putting many more in the basement. It was wonderful when our first Wilshire LACMA was built. We loved it, and we loved visiting the surrounding parkland, La Brea Tar Pits and the George C. Page bones museum. Nowadays, it appears the architects of museums are more important than the artworks themselves. In recent years the Tate Britain brought up from the basement treasures not seen in years, and it was so lovely to see them.

The new-to-be LACMA apparently is more important than the fabulous collection we have, if so much less is to be shown? The sweeping annex over Wilshire will be like any other freeway overpass — casting a shadow, so i hope the cleaning crews keep it clean and rubbish-free. One more point, re: concrete walls. Having a contemporary look is more important to this architect than the hanging of paintings. My apartment has concrete walls and nothing can hang from them without drilling a hole. And if art is moved, then those holes have to be filled, or left. How about having faux concrete walls, and put some of the multimillions to use by hiring an artist to paint them?" Patricia Mace, Los Angeles

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"The proposed new LACMA building is a disgraceful fiscal fiasco the public does not need, is opposed to by the discerning public and increases the public debt when funds are short for the homeless and destitute.

I arrived in Los Angeles the year LACMA was opened (1965) and found an engaging campus with the beginning of a world-class art collection that has served the public well.

What is most important in a public art museum is its collection and how it is displayed. The least important is the structure itself, unless it sullies the site it occupies and increases the indebtedness of the people it serves. We will be burdened with a world-class architect whose vision fails us." Jerome P. Helman, Venice

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"It is clear that LACMA cannot afford this vanity building project in both financial terms (no one honestly believes that its cost will be under $1 billion) nor in terms of the damage that will be done to the museum’s mission.

That the building will have less exhibition space than the buildings it replaces will mean that our world-class encyclopedic collection will go permanently into storage, with only fragments being cycled out for public view. Add to that the facts that this project uses up all the currently unused space on LACMA’s campus, plus a chunk of airspace over Wilshire, making future expansion impossible, and that the curators, conservators and other staff will be moved off-site, and what you’ve got is an unmitigated disaster. We won’t even end up with an interesting building since most of what little interest it had has been value-engineered out.

To L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, please stop this now before it’s too late."  John Sherwood, Topanga

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"In all the ongoing discussions about the future shape of LACMA, there has been little said about the effect the new structure will have on the donation of artworks upon which most American museums have depended to establish and build their collections. Given the choice of an institution that will put the artworks on display versus one that will only store them and occasionally use them as a source for possible exhibitions, the donors of the best work will not look to LACMA but elsewhere.

When museumgoers visit museums, they look for those works that they have heard of and that give them insight into our lives and cultures. We go to see them again and again, these sources of joy and inspiration great works of art offer us.

I am not sure that a fluid system that is subjective to the taste and style of a given moment in time can be successful by trivializing years of scholarship and experience." Allen J. Manzano, Carlsbad

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"There is another yet unmentioned cost of the new LACMA plan and that is to the air quality, not only in the immediate vicinity but potentially the entire L.A. Basin by an endless stream of uncovered dump trucks hauling away tons of deconstruction waste of four buildings.

How will all that dust and exhaust fumes from the passing debris parade affect visitors to the Peterson Museum, the new Motion Picture Academy Museum and La Brea Tar Pits, let alone the schools, convalescent homes, parks and sidewalks along the city streets to the nearest freeway?

How far away is the nearest landfill that will accept the trucks and how will the communities along the way be impacted? Talk about a hidden cost of this massive, invasive proposed project. This will have a serious impact on our already fragile environment."  Jim Rogers, North Hollywood

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"With his unfounded assertion that a one-story museum is necessary because it is democratic and “antihierarchical,” LACMA director Michael Govan has behaved in a most undemocratic, autocratic manner by hiring an architect without any input from anyone else; refusing to open the LACMA renovation/replacement project to an architectural competition; and keeping the ever-changing Zumthor plan (12 years and counting) a secret from the public.

As Miranda’s article states: “[N]o final plans for the future museum’s galleries have been publicly revealed.”

How is it possible that funding was obtained for an unknown plan, especially with taxpayer funding? An investigation is certainly in order, notwithstanding Govan’s swaggering claim that raising another $100 million is “like walking after you’ve run hard.” As Miranda points out, building and maintenance costs have already ballooned, and will undoubtedly do so in the coming years. The $100 million estimate may prove insufficient.

Apart from these shocking, significant procedural deficiencies, the Govan-Zumthor architectural plan is deeply flawed, from reducing the amount of gallery space to making that space glass-enclosed. As all museum and art professionals know, sunlight is fatal to art; glass is the last material a museum would choose to surround its art.

In addition, the cost of keeping a glazed east-/west-facing exhibition space properly air-conditioned is significant, and certainly not ecologically sound. Sam Lubell remarked that the Zumthor design “promises wonderful views of the neighborhood through large sheets of uninterrupted glass.”

Seriously? Are museums now touting views of a neighborhood rather than views of artworks? If the view was really such an important factor to Govan and Zumthor, they could have built a three- or four-story museum with a viewing platform at the top.

Everything about the Govan-Zumthor plan is questionable. Before it is too late, the public and the supervisors who represent them must call for a halt to this folly while demanding a museum that is practical, sustainable and respectful of the art it contains. As the recent full-page advertisement in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times implied, the Govan-Zumthor plan is dead in the water."  Victoria Dailey, Los Angeles

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"Thank you for your thoughtful analysis of the financing challenges LACMA will face with this project.

LACMA trustees clearly have great confidence in their ability to raise new money for this project from outside sources, as well as their own charitable assets. Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering that the National Bureau of Economic Research reported in July 2019 that the United States had by then enjoyed the longest economic expansion in its history — more than 120 consecutive months of growth. In times like these, major gift campaigns for costly, high-profile projects can almost seem easy: New donors emerge, eager to support an ambitious agenda; established donors increase their support, and everyone is keen to make the most of charitable contributions as part of their tax and estate planning strategies.

The concern, of course, is that in 2020 “times like these” may not last much longer — a recession will likely occur at some point during LACMA’s multiyear development plan. Even in moderate recessions, new money is harder to raise and established donors may renegotiate or delay payment on existing commitments. In more extreme cases, like the 2008 financial crisis, even loyal supporters are likely to redirect a portion of their charitable giving to nonprofits that meet a more pressing need, like food banks or social services. Under those conditions, large capital projects that have unexpected design changes and poor cost controls and aren’t completed on time present serious risks to an organization’s mission and financial stability. Similar considerations make any attempt to finance cost overruns with public money politically difficult and highly embarrassing.

As a result, trustees of institutions like LACMA must be very careful not to overextend themselves. Reading your article, I was sadly reminded that debt service costs and other financial constraints forced the American Folk Art Museum to sell its remarkable (then new) home on West 53rd Street to MoMA in 2011.

Many of those costs and constraints were directly related to construction of the West 53re Street buildings, subsequently demolished to make way for the 40,000 square feet of new gallery space you mention that MoMA opened last year.

A cautionary tale." Greg Meagher, San Francisco

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"Good sense in both articles [by Miranda and Lubell]. Besides problems cited in numerous articles and letters — including the complete inadequacy to house or display a substantial part of the existing collections, the terrible unresolved level of debt already carried by the museum and resulting prohibitive future ticket prices, the lack of offices for curators and staff (who should be ever-present to monitor threats of any sort to the collections as they ordinarily would do in passing through every day), the inadequacy of the library for both usage and storage, and the loss of beloved galleries that could be renovated and help solve many of these problems — there are additional problems with the design: Concrete is very subject to absorbing and retaining humidity, and destructively passing it on to the attached works of art. Concrete walls also mean that every change in display will cause ugly holes that can’t be repaired. Current walls are flexible, and can be painted after old holes repaired.

The giant glass walls, however pretty the view (and distracting from the art), halve the potential display space. And, importantly, the uncontrolled light is damaging to a large variety of artwork. Even if all the glass is UV filtered (fundamental but expensive), the air-conditioning costs will be raised by inadequate insulation from outside light and rising temperatures. And I don’t see any solar panels to help with the added electrical needs.

It is still not too late to stop, reevaluate and redesign the entire unpopular, wasteful and disastrous current project into the kind of campus that fulfills current and future needs, financial, aesthetic and practical. Hold the bulldozers back until then."  Tony Amodeo, Los Angeles