As LACMA preps for its celeb-studded half-century close-up this month, museum director Michael Govan fast-forwards to the next 50 years of fabulous.
2023: Art odyssey! Peter Zumthor’s dramatic new LACMA addition will reach across Wilshire Boulevard.
What began in 1961 as a donation of $2 million from insurance and finance magnate Howard F. Ahmanson Sr. has blossomed into a world-class center for art, film, and music—the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, better known as LACMA. This dynamic cultural hub will commemorate five decades on April 18 with a dazzling anniversary gala, cochaired by Lynda Resnick, Jane Nathanson, and Ann Colgin. The ticketed event will take place inside the museum’s newest structure, the Resnick Pavilion, and will feature the presentation of 50 works bequeathed to the museum from some of the wealthiest collectors in the world. Other anniversary events include an exhibition of these promised works—dubbed “50 for 50: Gifts on the Occasion of LACMA’s 50th Anniversary”—as well as talks, films, lectures, and a free admission day on Sunday, April 26.
So what’s in store for the next 50 years? Michael Govan, LACMA’s CEO and director, who will celebrate a decade in his post next year, opens up about the museum’s evolution, its break from artistic tradition, and the radical face-lift that’s in store for its campus.
How has LACMA evolved since its inception in 1965? You aren’t talking about a long trajectory; we’re still considered very young in museum years. We’ve been experiencing a major growth spurt: Attendance has doubled [since 2007], with [average] length of stay going from 45 minutes to two hours. Even more important is the expansion of collections, audience, and staff. We’ve obtained 19,000 new acquisitions in the last seven years.
Portraits of the Scull Family by James Rosenquist, 1962, is one of the promised gifts that will be on view for LACMA’s 50th anniversary exhibition
How have the collections changed over the last five decades? Up until recently, we’ve been a museum that’s operated in a more traditional way. Our offerings have definitely become more diverse. A good example is our Korean art collection. When we opened in 1965, we didn’t have a single Korean work. We’re also building our African art collection, and our new curator Diana Magaloni has made a strong effort to make LACMA the institution with one of the largest Latin collections available.
What new projects are in the works? We’re very excited about the new [Peter Zumthor– designed] facility we’re creating. We hope to open it by 2023. We’re adding two buildings that will reach across Wilshire Boulevard, increasing our visibility. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has taken on the restoration of LACMA West and its iconic Art Deco cylinder. They’ve raised over $350 million so far. With that restoration, the subway opening on Wilshire, and the Petersen Automotive Museum façade getting a face-lift, the entire area will bring our attendance to a level we’ve never experienced before—and that’s very exciting!
So what do you envision for LACMA’s next 50 years? We want to increase accessibility with our new facility. Because of the design, you will be able to see right into the galleries—you’re literally invited in. We also want to operate in the most efficient way possible. The facility we’re building will be solar-powered to accomplish that. Another goal is to become more diverse, something we will achieve by establishing ourselves as an institution with no hierarchy of cultures or artists. The first 50 years was really about art in the traditional sense. The next 50 years is about becoming culturally centered. “50 for 50: Gifts on the Occasion of LACMA’s 50th Anniversary” will run April 26–September 7. 5905 Wilshire Blvd., LA, 323-857-6000