How does the new Lynda and Stewart Resnick Pavilion fit into the LACMA family? Surely you must remember the Arnold Schwarzenegger/Danny DeVito movie “Twins.” I will not go so far as to suggest that this is what the worldly architect Renzo Piano had in mind when he designed the Resnick Pavilion at LACMA and placed it right next to his other contribution to “the campus:” the Broad Contemporary Art Museum. The resulting effect, however, is not far off. As viewed from the Entrance Pavilion, the Resnik Pavilion looks like the less-developed sibling of the taller, more imposing BCAM. It’s, well, the grand Piáno and the baby Piáno (insert restrained, WASPY laugh here). Both buildings are topped by a saw-tooth roof, are constructed from the same pale travertene marble, and are embellished with this or that functional accent in fire engine-… sorry, “Renzo-Red:” a staircase (BCAM) or an air-duct (the Resnik).But these are just surface details. As LACMA CEO and director Micheal Govan assurs us, the Resnik Pavillion is nothing but grand when viewed from the inside.
The LA Times has a great interactive online graphic of the Resnick Pavilion. You can go to it and click on the roof and have the roof come off. What you’ll see is a square box, divided up in three spaces, with the middle space serving as a sort of grand walkway, reminiscent of the Greek Galleries at the Met. Looking at the LA Times graphic, noticing the thin walls, the grandeur of the middle court and the almost secretive divisions of the lateral spaces, you can imagine the Resnick as a sort of temple. That’s only your imagination talking. Having been inside, I can say it more resembles a cross between a fancy office building lobby and a half-assed maze. This is obviously unfortunate, if only for the fact that it could have been prevented by more selective curatorial decisions.
According to the press release, the Resnick Pavilion is “the largest purpose-built, naturally lit, open-plan museum space in the world.” Considering the inaugural exhibitions presently on display, I wonder as to what that that purpose is that the Resnick was built for. My instinct was to suggest David Smith or Richard Serra, some artist whose works are massive and meant to be displayed outdoors. Zhang Huan’s tremendous, sad monster “Giant # 3.” Perhaps a giant Rauschenberg if you really want something to hang on a wall.
There seems to be some confusion as to what to display and how to display it in the expansiveness of the new space. The European paintings and artifacts in the Eye for the Sensual: Selections from the Resnick Collection seem to hide out among the saturated walls and dark corners of their allotted space, while the dresses, corsets and suits of the Fashioning Fashion exhibit (European Dress in Detail, 1700 – 1915) seem imprisoned in their dingy crates. It as if they are kept in strict isolation form each other so as to not form an alliance and take over the entire space as a coherent show. Only the giant stone heads and anthropomorphic figures of the Olmec exhibition seemed to come close to matching the potential of this exhibition space. They not only benefited from the softened outdoor light they were meant for, but seemed most at home taking up some of the expansive space without the confinement of saccharine walls or categorical crates.
The building took about seven years to design and then build, and cost $53 million dollars. That’s about $1,178 per square foot. A little steep, you may think, but what they spent on building it, they’ll save in electric bills, because all the light comes in from the outside. A giant greenhouse? No. It’s supposed to be a space for art. A space for art that transcends the boundaries between inside and outside.
At the press opening, Piano expressed that art does not need white boxes. He was referring to the architecture, the actual space, in which art is placed: those cold, sterile gallery settings, where art is hung and isolated. So he said he tried to make a space without walls. Well, he didn’t build a levitating roof, but he did manage to make us forget about the walls that hold it up. All the light comes in from the outside through the skylights, which face northward and collect a softer sort of light and diffuse it down on the artworks. The north- and south-facing walls are also made of glass, giving the visitor subtle visual access to the outside world and flooding the space with even more soft, diffused light. Maybe when the Resnicks hired Piano to build them a pavilion, they ditched the age-old real-estate bargain of how much space can we get for our money and asked instead, how much light can we get for $53 million?
The answer here is: a whole lot, but you wouldn’t know it from the way it is set up now. For a space meant to challenge the notion of art in boxes, the Resnick Pavilion sure has a lot of compartments (and ironically enough, boxes) for it’s début to the public. The hope for future exhibitions is that curators will have the courage to capitalize on the pavilion’s expansiveness and marry the space with the art it presents rather than trying to mold it into seemingly appropriate containers.