Jerry Saltz Pulverizes LACMA redesign

Director Michael Govan steered new plan to unanimous support from the county

Jerry Saltz, winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in commentary, taken at the Pulitzer Prize ceremony in New York. (Photo by Fuzheado)

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to approve an ambitious $650 million plan for a new Wilshire Boulevard building for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The Peter Zumthor structure will be part of the already underway redesign of LACMA’s galleries and public space, which over the last few years have included opening the Broad Contemporary Art Museum building and the Resnick Pavilion plus the Renzo Piano-designed Smidt Welcome Plaza and an integrated restaurant and bar. The new building is intended to replace four deteriorating structures that are largely unusable for exhibiting art.

The ambitious plan has been quarterbacked by LACMA Director Michael Govan and cheered on by prominent supporters like Brad Pitt and Diane Keaton, who showed up for the vote and spoke to the supervisors. It has also attracted support from people like Kerry Brougher, the head of next-door neighbor Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Mayor Eric Garcetti said, “The visionary plan for @LACMA is essential to the future of our Miracle Mile — creating a world-class cultural destination for Angelenos and visitors with iconic architecture, more green space, access to public transit, and a better museum experience.

But not everyone’s pleased.

Jerry Saltz, the aptly named Pulitzer Prize-winning salty art critic for New York magazine, has emerged as a leader of the plan’s growing army of opponents. And deploying the same knack for arresting social media that’s earned him a couple timeouts, Saltz isn’t going easy on Govan and the LACMA plan.

In response to Garcetti’s endorsement, Saltz tweeted, “No! You’ve been conned! This will cripple one of the best encyclopedic museums in this country; cut an enormous amount of space for art; shatter the departments. This will be the most damaging museum renovation since @MuseumModernArt 2004 self-destructed shortchanging its space.”

Saltz is referring to the redesign of MOMA, to which he virally reacted by burning his Press Pass after years of harshly criticizing the museum’s too-small renovation, as well as its emphasis on trendy performance art and a host of other beefs.

Saltz takes on Govan personally, blaming him for having “unnecessarily forever shuttered” the Chelsea outpost of the Dia Center for the Arts. Saltz calls Govan “the Fitzcarraldo of misguided Museum,” sending his half million Twitter followers to Google to nail down that reference to the 1982 Werner Herzog movie about a power-mad Peruvian rubber baron.

Keaton has publicly come to Govan’s defense, tweeting “Michael Govan has single handedly changed the landscape of our beloved @LACMA. Times have changed under his brilliance.”

But after the name-calling and back-and-forth, Saltz cuts to the core of what’s at stake and he speaks from the heart:

“An entire generation of high-flying fast-talking slick museum Directors have helped destroy their institutions – with the clueless cooperation of corporate boards and the duplicitous conniving of other trustees seeking to do deals – all on the backs of art.”

“With offices off-site curators won’t walk-though the collections all day, every day, not see how the public is “using” their installations. Breaking up the departments sounds liberal good-little-humanist. It’s not. Its a leveling totalitarian for all but contemporary art = $$$.”

“Bad medicine. Los Angeles losses. Big money, glitz, and the suits win. History loses. A nullity is fashioned from something incredibly special. Something that had been made over decades with dedication, passion and endless love.”

“Tragic finish: The LA County Board of Supervisors has approved the dismantling of @LACMA as an encyclopedic art museum. This is the most damaging act of museum destruction since @MuseumModernArt 2004 disastrous rebuild. How was this allowed to happen!? Irreparable culpability.”

Ken Kurson

Ken Kurson is the founder of the Globe suite of sites. Kurson was editor in chief of the New York Observer from 2013 -2017, and in 2014, Algemeiner magazine named Ken Kurson Journalist of the Year. Ken is the author of several books and the founder of Green Magazine.

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