Actors Brad Pitt and Diane Keaton were among those who urged the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors this week to approve $117.5 million in funding for the redesign of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
The board unanimously approved the funding—which follows an earlier payment of $7.5 million—along with $300 million in bond financing to support the project. The board’s support will be more than matched by $525 million in private money raised by the museum.
Pitt and Keaton both praised architect Peter Zumthor’s single-story design, which will be built across and above Wilshire Boulevard.
Pitt called him “one of the great architects of our time … (who) builds from the soul, for the soul.”
Keaton noted the many prestigious awards Zumthor has won.
“If you were an actor, that would mean that you had won 15 Academy Awards,” she said.
But critics of the plan accused LACMA Director Michael Govan of trying to shut down opponents.
Resident Oscar Pena called the process “autocratic and openly hostile to the public” and said the museum shouldn’t be saddled with millions of dollars in bond debt.
Others complained that the redesign of four aging buildings reduces the exhibit space, which Govan countered by saying that earlier construction of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum building and the Resnick Pavilion added 100,000 of gallery space.
After the redesign, LACMA will boast a total 220,000 square feet of exhibit space.
“For me, that is the right size for LACMA,” Govan told the board.
Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight published an open letter to the supervisors urging them not to support the redesign. Citing an interview with The Times in which Govan put the cost at about $1,873 per square foot, Knight said the cost was a gross overpayment and $500 per square foot too high. He also said the design doesn’t allow for expansion and would limit the museum’s ability to appropriately reflect the diverse cultures that make up Los Angeles.
Govan told the board that the cost of the building is about $1,400 per square foot.
The total project cost is $650 million, which includes parking and other infrastructure costs that may not be included in that square footage calculation.
As for the design, “I think it’s visionary and I think it anticipates the future of our museum,” Govan said.
It would have cost $250 million just to restore the four buildings, which led the county to agree years ago to pay half that amount.
Though the board’s vote was unanimous, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl went out of her way to say she liked the design and wasn’t at all reluctant to offer her support, implying that some of her colleagues were not as enthusiastic.
Kuehl said she believes Govan and his administration are “devoted” to expanding access to the arts and serving the diverse cultural needs of residents countywide.