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Museums: a Grand Tour

May 25, 1986

In six months, as November fades into December, Los Angeles will be celebrating the opening of vast additions to its art-museum facilities--a proliferation of gallery space perhaps never before equaled in the world of art. We have been out looking at the projects--overwhelmed by the size, the imagination, the potential.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art will open the new Robert O. Anderson Building on Nov. 23, and with that opening will effectively double its gallery space while providing a monumental entrance way directly from Wilshire Boulevard to the heart of the museum.

The Museum of Contemporary Art will begin festivities a week later to mark completion of its permanent quarters on Bunker Hill, with about 400 works by more than 70 artists on exhibition in both the new galleries and the Temporary Contemporary adjacent to Little Tokyo.

One measure of the remarkable effect of these projects is the growth of memberships in both institutions. The County Museum of Art, dedicated scarcely 20 years ago, has doubled its membership since ground was broken for the addition in January, 1984; there are more than 71,000 members. The Museum of Contemporary Art, which opened in its "temporary" gallery in November, 1983, has almost 20,000 members and expects 25,000 by the time the new galleries open.

The exteriors of these structures are bold and striking in contrast to the gallery interiors, where the architects have created anonymous space that will not divert attention from the art exhibited within. At the County Museum, Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates of New York has created a facade of Minnesota limestone, green terra cotta and glass blocks that rises 100 feet along Wilshire, with a 50-foot-high entrance portal. At the Contemporary, Arata Isozaki of Tokyo has chosen a low and eclectic profile of vault, pyramids and severe boxes, with entry stairs descending through an outdoor restaurant courtyard to the galleries a floor below street level.

The new Contemporary and its "temporary" annex together will have more gallery space than the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The Robert O. Anderson Building alone is larger than either the Guggenheim or the Whitney in New York and, when combined with the existing County Museum galleries, will constitute the largest art museum west of Washington. Size is, of course, meaningless by itself. It is the contents that count. The Anderson Building's four levels will accommodate special exhibitions as well as the museum's own growing collection of 20th-Century art. Both museums will now have room to get more of their permanent collections out of storage vaults and to entice more loans.

In a sense this is just one more giant step. Yet another lies ahead, in late 1992, when the Getty Center will be completed in West Los Angeles. As schematic drawings proceed for that extra-ordinary project, the museum's acquisitions fill a large book-size catalogue each year--a signal of the magnificent collection that is growing at an unrivaled pace, ready to overflow the new museum that will rise alongside study, research and conservation facilities.

When seen in the context of existing facilities, including the recently enlarged Huntington Library and Art Collections in San Marino and the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, the additions signal the arrival of Los Angeles in the top ranks of the world of art.

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