LACMA Plans Ambitious Satellite in South LA to Reach More Angelenos Where They Live

Director Michael Govan wants to create "a de-centered museum in a de-centered metropolis."

A welcome sign at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which is working to expand across the city. Photo by George Rose/Getty Images.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has been working for years to lay the groundwork for a flashy $650 million renovation designed by Peter Zumthor. But that’s not the only expansion in the works at the LA museum. The institution is also in negotiations with South Los Angeles to build a branch in a wetlands park around 40 minutes’ drive from its main campus.

LACMA’s director Michael Govan discussed the plan to create “a de-centered museum in a de-centered metropolis” on a recent episode of the podcast In Other Words. “Because LA is a spread-out city, it’s just not true that people travel to every neighborhood, and that everyone can get to LACMA,” he said.

The Los Angeles parks department voted last month to move forward with LACMA’s proposal to sign a 35-year lease on a vacant 84,000-square-foot bus storage yard. The museum would renovate the building and use the space to store and display works from its collection. (Although the plans were first made public in late spring, the project has mostly flown under the radar.)

Aerial map of LA County, courtesy of the Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners, May 2017.

Aerial map of South Los Angeles Wetlands Park where LACMA hopes to build its new satellite. Courtesy of the Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners, May 2017.

In recent years, LACMA has been exploring how to reach new audiences in its own backyard by organizing exhibitions in unlikely places, from a middle school in MacArthur Park to the Vincent Price Art Museum in East Los Angeles.

Govan told In Other Words: “You could literally run a space in South Los Angeles, and then run a space in San Fernando Valley. There would be no overlap in audiences between Wilshire Boulevard, San Fernando Valley, and South Los Angeles. None. You think about it: ‘Oh, do you have to send your collection abroad to have it seen by different people?’”

Within 18 months of the lease signing at South Los Angeles Wetlands Park, LACMA has pledged to launch a series of public programs, such as “social justice-themed school tours” or a teen tour guide training, according to a preliminary report from the parks department. The museum may also lease a portion of the building to the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Fundraising for the project will be conducted independently of LACMA’s $650 million capital campaign. But the satellite would certainly come in handy when four of the museum’s existing buildings are demolished to make way for the Zumthor extension. (Construction is now slated to begin in 2019, a year later than planned; the extension is scheduled to open in 2023.)

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Rendering of a planned gallery on LACMA’s main campus. Image courtesy of Atelier Peter Zumthor.

A spokeswoman for LACMA told artnet News that conversations are ongoing but that there are no further official updates to the project. Govan told Curbed in June that the plans would take shape as the museum continued to solicit feedback from locals. 

For Govan, the project represents “a different way of sharing and thinking.” He said on the podcast: “I often find that the small institutions are light on their feet and more innovative than we are as big institutions. So, the more partnerships we can make with small institutions—we can share our infrastructure, they can share their ideas—more can be done.”

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