The Resnick Pavilion, which opens to the public on October 2, is the second major structure that Renzo Piano has created for the LA County Museum of Art. It employs roof louvers and travertine cladding similar to his 2008 Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM), but on a single level. Its horizontality plays off the verticality of BCAM, as do its scarlet extrusions—sensuously rounded mechanical casings along the sidewalls. In contrast to BCAM, the Resnick offers a single space, unbroken except for two rows of slender columns, bathed in natural light from above and from the glass wall to the north.
That singular luminosity fulfills Piano’s promise of “calm, serenity, and even a voluptuous quality linked to the contemplation of the work of art.” Those attributes define the Menil in Houston, the Nasher in Dallas, and the Modern Wing of the Chicago Art Institute, but they eluded him in BCAM. A Walter de Maria installation comprising rows of white bars filled the 45,000-square-foot expanse of the Resnick for a month before it was subdivided for three opening exhibitions.
The Resnick rounds out a masterplan that substitutes clarity for incoherence. In 2001, Eli Broad invited Piano to enter an architectural competition to transform LACMA’s messy jumble of buildings and add new galleries. He declined, explaining, “it’s very frustrating to play a good piece by a string quartet in the middle of three badly played rock concerts.” The competition was held; Rem Koolhaas’ audacious proposal to demolish most of the existing buildings and put new galleries under a translucent tent was accepted and then quickly abandoned as infeasible. Piano was lured back to design BCAM, and he agreed on the condition that he could transform the campus.
After four decades of mediocre architecture, confused leadership, and anemic philanthropy (but for a handful of individuals and foundations), LACMA began to exploit the potential of its collections and exhibition program. Ogden Street was closed, a piazza replaced a parking structure, and the museum entrance was relocated to an open-sided pavilion designed by Piano.
A covered walkway, also formed by Piano, links it with LACMA West, the former May Company department store that will be remodeled by SPF:a when funding becomes available. That axis extends east through the atrium of the Ahmanson, up a grand staircase to the old courtyard, and onto the Japanese Pavilion. Piano now has his quartet of new structures, and has realized his goal of “carving through the site with the precision of a surgeon [and creating] a carefully measured sequence of architectural spaces, a procession through the museum’s collection and the city’s cultural memory.”
It’s a remarkable achievement, and now that Broad has turned his attention to creating his own museum downtown, director Michael Govan is providing the vision and the drive. He insisted that art should have primacy, enlivening blank facades with artist-designed banners and substituting Chris Burden’s Urban Light (a cluster of restored street lamps) for a bombastic arch as LACMA’s public face. Robert Irwin, who helped Govan transform a Nabisco factory into Dia:Beacon, is creating a living museum of palm trees—30 species from six continents—to complement the buildings. A levitating boulder from Michael Heizer may soon be installed on the plaza, and equally ambitious installations by Jeff Koons and James Turrell are promised. Pritzker-prizewinner Peter Zumthor is helping Govan reconceive the older buildings. LACMA has been radically transformed, and the momentum should carry it to new heights of excellence.