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Newport Board Votes Today : Italian Architect May Design Art Museum

November 12, 1987|ALLAN JALON | Times Staff Writer

The next major cultural project in Orange County took a big step forward Wednesday night with the tentative selection of Italian architect Renzo Piano--known for his work on the Centre Georges Pompidou cultural center in Paris--to build a new $20-million home for the Newport Harbor Art Museum.

Piano, who also designed the highly praised Menil Collection Museum in Houston that opened in June, was chosen from among three finalists by a majority of the Newport museum's 13-member architectural committee in a closed session, committee sources disclosed.

The committee voted to recommend him to the full, 37-member board of trustees, which meets today. The full board may accept, reject or take no action on the recommendation. Wednesday night's closed committee session lasted 3 1/2 hours, sources said, with members arguing on behalf of their favored candidates. The break-down of the vote could not be learned.

Museum director Kevin E. Consey declined to comment on who was selected. "The committee carefully examined the work of over 100 architects during the last 18 months and is prepared to make a recommendation to the museum's board of trustees . . . (this evening) that they engage one of those firms," Consey said. "At this point I will only discuss the process of what occurred."

Consey, Rogue Hemley, the chairman of the board of trustees, and other key museum officials have been closely involved in the process that led to the preliminary selection of Piano, a 50-year-old Genoa-born resident of Paris, the sources said.

The new building will probably be the most closely watched architectural project in Orange County since the Orange County Performing Arts Center. It will considerably heighten the profile of the museum--which has had several well-received exhibitions in the past two years--by moving it from its out-of-the-way location next to the Newport Beach library to a site near one of the county's busiest intersections.

The new museum will house traveling exhibitions and also permit more regular display of the Newport's own collection of more than 1,000 works by contemporary California artists. If all goes as planned, the building of 65,000 to 100,000 square feet will be completed in the early 1990s on a gently sloping, 10 1/2-acre site near the juncture of MacArthur Boulevard and Coast Highway in Corona del Mar.

The Irvine Co. has pledged to donate the site as a "challenge gift" provided the museum raises $10.5 million in the first phase of a funding campaign that has already begun.

Museum officials have said they are confident that they can raise the money.

On top of the $10.5 million, the museum plans to raise another $20 million for the new building. The current museum building on San Clemente Drive is 23,000 square feet. It cost $900,000 to build in 1977.

Strong Support Cited

A New York-based fund-raising consultant recently reported "potentially strong support on a regionwide basis" for the new museum.

If Piano is given final approval by the board of directors, it will end a yearlong search that produced as finalists three of the world's preeminent architects. The others were Charles W. Moore, a longtime California architect now based in Austin, and Ricardo Legorreta of Mexico City.

Piano was labeled as an architect enamored of a "high-tech" look with the Centre Pompidou, which he completed jointly with fellow architect Richard Rogers in 1977.

But he has also won high marks for the Menil Collection Museum, an externally low-key structure that houses a collection primarily of primitive and symbolist art assembled by Dominque de Menil.

Architecture critics have commented on the Menil's lack of pretentiousness--compared with the Pompidou. The futuristic Pompidou was variously denounced at first for looking like a spaceship or an oil refinery, but it has since become one of the city's most popular attractions. It houses the National Museum of Modern Art, as well as a library and a contemporary music center.

Newport Museum officials are hoping for a building that will draw international attention to their regional museum.

Montalban's Home

The 56-year-old Legorreta's highly geometric style has been described as Mexican regionalism. While he has mostly worked on hotels and office buildings, the best example of his work in the Los Angeles area is a home he designed for Fantasy Island star Ricardo Montalban and his wife. The house is composed of solid, spare interconnected block shapes reminiscent of traditional Mexican architecture.

Legoretta first won international notice with the Hotel Camino Real built in Mexico City for the 1968 Olympics.

Charles W. Moore, 63, a former dean of the Yale University School of Architecture, has been described as a leading proponent of the so-called post-Modernist school of architecture. He is known for the freely imaginative quality of his work, embodying elements of whim, myth and a willingness to borrow from architectural history.

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