Renzo Pi­ano plays with bold notes

Los Angeles Times - - Calendar - CHRISTO­PHER HAWTHORNE AR­CHI­TEC­TURE CRITIC

Over the spring and sum­mer, Los An­ge­les County Mu­seum of Art Di­rec­tor Michael Go­van opened the freshly com­pleted but still un­der-wraps Lynda and Ste­wart Res­nick Ex­hi­bi­tion Pavil­ion, the sec­ond gallery build­ing on the LACMA cam­pus de­signed by the Ital­ian ar­chi­tect Renzo Pi­ano, for a se­ries of tours for col­lec­tors, cu­ra­tors, crit­ics and donors — and on a hand­ful of days to the gen­eral pub­lic.

For the oc­ca­sion, he ar­ranged to put on dis­play a re­mark­able piece of Min­i­mal­ist art, Wal­ter De Maria’s sprawl­ing, floor-hug­ging and rarely seen “The 2000 Sculp­ture,” and kept the rest of Pi­ano’s sin­gle-level build­ing un­clut­tered.

Now that the $54-mil­lion pavil­ion is ready for a clutch of cel­e­bra­tory galas this week­end and an of­fi­cial pub­lic open­ing Oct. 2 and 3, it’s ev­i­dent that Go­van’s de­ci­sion to ar­range for the build­ing to be viewed — and writ­ten about — at that pre­lim­i­nary stage was, if not a risk, then at least strate­gi­cally some­thing of a dou­ble-edged sword.

In show­ing off the Res­nick

Ar­chi­tec­ture,

Pavil­ion when it was beau­ti­fully cav­ernous, its north­fac­ing sky­lights throw­ing crisp light across the full ex­panse of its con­crete floors, Go­van un­der­scored how much more tightly ex­e­cuted and fo­cused the build­ing is than Pi­ano’s ini­tial ef­fort at LACMA, the 2008 Broad Con­tem­po­rary Art Mu­seum. Even if it doesn’t rise to the level of Pi­ano’s art-world mas­ter­pieces, the Me­nil Col­lec­tion in Hous­ton or the Beyeler Foun­da­tion in Basel, Switzer­land, the Res­nick Pavil­ion has a re­strained con­fi­dence and as­sured pos­ture that re­minds us why he has been the world’s most sought-af­ter mu­seum ar­chi­tect for much of the last decade.

Nonethe­less, all of us who saw the Res­nick in such a pris­tine state now carry around a mental snap­shot of what the build­ing is ca­pa­ble of, ar­chi­tec­turally and in the ser­vice of art. And now that the pavil­ion is or­ga­nized in a more tra­di­tional way — in a way more in­dica­tive of how it will be used from here on out, with tem­po­rary walls di­vid­ing its 45,000 square feet into thirds — it suf­fers a bit from the com­par­i­son. The build­ing’s bal­ance be­tween re­pose and strength — be­tween seren­ity and per­son­al­ity — is now a good deal tougher to ap­pre­ci­ate.

In­deed, what seems most clear, on see­ing the in­te­rior ex­panse sliced up to make room for a trio of inaugural ex­hi­bi­tions — one on mas­sive an­cient Mex­i­can art­works, one on Euro­pean dress­mak­ing and the third, called “ Eye for the Sen­sual,” full of Euro­pean art from the col­lec­tions of the Res­nicks them­selves — is that the build­ing is not quite the supremely ef­fi­cient and thor­oughly adapt­able “ma­chine” for dis­play­ing art that Go­van and Pi­ano sug­gested it would be. In­stead, it is a space that ap­pears to work markedly bet­ter for mus­cu­lar art, and art that can stand up to nat­u­ral light from those sky­lights, than for more del­i­cate or in­ti­mate works.

The inaugural ex­hi­bi­tions, in fact, op­er­ate as a se­ries of tests of the pavil­ion’s flex­i­bil­ity and ar­chi­tec­tural per­son­al­ity, with mixed re­sults. The show of Me­soamer­i­can an­tiq­ui­ties, which in­cludes a huge stone head fac­ing vis­i­tors di­rectly as they en­ter the new build­ing, has a frank­ness and strength that match the best el­e­ments of the ar­chi­tec­ture. The fashion ex­hi­bi­tion works with the build­ing nearly as well, the se­ri­al­ity of its rows of dresses un­ex­pect­edly re­call­ing the rows of De Maria’s art­work.

As for “Eye for the Sen­sual,” well, let’s just say that while Go­van has proved his skill in work­ing with ar­chi­tects over the years, deal­ing with the de­mands and hopes of donors is trick­ier still. For him, keep­ing the build­ing’s con­crete floors un­cov­ered in the “Sen­sual” ex­hi­bi­tion — while the rest of the show un­folds in­side a riot of sug­ary do­mes­tic­ity, com­plete with pi­lasters and wall­pa­per — of­fers a mea­sure of de­tach­ment, a re­as­sur­ing mes­sage that he and his cu­ra­tors see the en­tire dis­play not in art-his­tor­i­cal earnest but as a stage set. But the ic­ing is laid on thickly enough here to over­whelm any sense of irony.

To be sure, I say all of this as some­one who prefers mu­seum de­sign with se­ri­ous back­bone, whether the ar­chi­tec­tural forms are ex­u­ber­ant, quiet or some­where in be­tween. The “Sen­sual” show may well be an anom­aly, hardly in­dica­tive of the kind of ex­hi­bi­tion Go­van and LACMA cu­ra­tors de­cide will work well in­side the Res­nick Pavil­ion. At least I hope that’s the case.

Along the traver­tine-wrapped ex­te­rior of the new build­ing, land­scape de­sign by the artist Robert Ir­win has fi­nally rounded into fi­nal shape. The in­ter­ac­tion among BCAM, the Res­nick Pavil­ion, a cov­ered walk­way be­tween them and the col­lec­tion of pot­ted and un­pot­ted palms se­lected by Ir­win has cre­ated a re­mark­able se­ries of open-air spa­ces, some tucked away and oth­ers quite con­spic­u­ous. And now that a lawn to the north of the Res­nick, to­ward 6th Street, is in place — even as the in­stal­la­tion of a mas­sive sculp­ture by Michael Heizer on that side of the cam­pus re­mains a full year away — it is ev­i­dent just how much Pi­ano’s build­ing is ori­ented not just to­ward BCAM but also away from it. Its sym­me­try and open­ness to­ward 6th make it a space that of­fers cu­ra­tors a mul­ti­di­rec­tional free­dom, al­low­ing them to ar­range art to face not just the south­ern en­try but the north­ern one as well.

In the end, judg­ing the Res­nick Pavil­ion is a more rel­a­tive ex­er­cise than is usu­ally the case with new build­ings; it all de­pends on how you frame the ques­tion of its ar­chi­tec­tural achieve­ment. Com­pared to BCAM it is a clear, con­fi­dent im­prove­ment. Com­pared to Pi­ano’s stand­out mu­seum work it is hardly trans­port­ing, if also un­de­ni­ably as­sured. And com­pared to the way it looked ear­lier this year, when it was glo­ri­ously empty save the De Maria sculp­ture, it has re­gressed by a mod­est but no­tice­able half-step.

Ge­naro Molina

STONY: The Res­nick pavil­ion is the sec­ond gallery build­ing on the LACMA cam­pus de­signed by the Ital­ian Renzo Pi­ano. It opens in early Oc­to­ber.

Pho­to­graphs by Ge­naro Molina

OUT­DOOR-INDOOR: The Res­nick pavil­ion is cov­ered in traver­tine. Sky­lights face north, al­low­ing crisp light to cut across the ex­pan­sive con­crete floors in­side.

VIL­LAGE: Renzo Pi­ano’s Res­nick pavil­ion in­ter­acts with his Broad build­ing and a cov­ered walk­way.

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