Seated in his second-floor office with an expansive view of the Pacific Ocean, Hal Nelson, director of the Long Beach Museum of Art, is surrounded by architectural drawings and models for the museum's long-awaited, frequently aborted expansion. And he could hardly be happier--unless, of course, he also had a pot of gold to guarantee that the new set of plans will come to fruition.
But with about $1 million in gifts and pledges already in place, Nelson thinks the $4-million goal--including a $1-million endowment--is attainable. At long last, he says, it appears that the museum really will be able to exhibit more of its permanent collection, serve as a venue for large traveling exhibitions and accommodate a more extensive education program.
The expansion also will allow the museum to store its collection and maintain its media arts center on site, instead of relegating them to far-flung, auxiliary facilities, he said. That will allow the museum to make better use of a major asset, the vast video collection.
Los Angeles-based Frederick Fisher, who has designed many art facilities including L.A. Louver in Venice, the Eli Broad Family Foundation in Santa Monica and the recently expanded P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York, is the project's architect. The most ambitious part of his plan calls for erecting a 12,000-square-foot, two-story exhibition hall on the current site of the museum's carriage house.
Making way for progress, the carriage house will be moved to the opposite side of the campus, behind the existing museum, and converted to a media arts center. The present museum will be used for administrative offices, classrooms, a cafe, retail shop, library, storage and a video screening room.
The new building will become the museum's primary exhibition space, but it will also have a large room for meetings, lectures and receptions. With a lantern-like glass atrium on the front as its most prominent feature, the clean-lined structure will provide large, high-ceilinged galleries, suitable for contemporary artworks. Brick and wood elements on the exterior will provide visual connections to the old buildings.
Both the existing museum and the carriage house will be restored to their original condition and "essential beauty," Nelson said. Windows that have been covered to provide more wall space will be reopened and a 1970s addition to the museum will be replaced with a more complementary structure. In addition, a 38-space parking lot will be developed on a vacant parcel of city-owned land, a half-block west of the museum.
Enlarging the museum has been a topic of discussion ever since the institution was founded in 1950, said Nelson, who has been at the helm since 1989. The most ambitious scheme, announced in 1991, was the proposed construction of a $15-million facility downtown on land donated by the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency. When that proved too expensive, the museum developed a $6-million proposal to move into a downtown building formerly occupied by Thrift Village.
But the cost was still too high and many people in the community were attached to the museum's building and grounds, Nelson said. "The glorious site and the historic buildings make this a very special campus," he said. "It's the city's living room."
The two-story museum was built in 1912 as a summer home by philanthropist Elizabeth Milbank Anderson, heir to financier and industrialist Jeremiah Milbank, but it has served a variety of purposes. Club California, Long Beach's first social, athletic and beach club, occupied the house from 1926 until 1929, when it reverted to a private residence. During World War II it became the Navy Chief Petty Officer's Club. The City of Long Beach purchased the building in 1950 for a municipal art center.
The city operated the museum until 1985, when a community group formed the Long Beach Museum of Art Foundation and entered into a partnership with the city. About one-third of the museum's annual $1-million budget now comes from the city. All funds for expansion and renovation will come from private sources.
YOUNG ART, OLD DIGS: The Gramercy International Contemporary Art Fair will return to Los Angeles Dec. 5-7. Staged, as usual, at the historic Chateau Marmont Hotel on Sunset Boulevard, the fair has a preliminary line-up of 40 art dealers and publishers. Out-of-towners will arrive from New York, Miami, San Francisco, Brussels, London and Copenhagen. Local participants are Jan Baum, Stephen Cohen, Kohn Turner, Griffin Contemporary Exhibitions, Ice Box-Gavlak Projects, Muse X Editions and Newspace.
Established by a group of New York dealers as an alternative to the big-ticket art fairs of the booming 1980s, the Gramercy International encourages participants to present the work of emerging artists rather than established figures. The dealers will temporarily set up shop in the funky old hotel's guest rooms and offer their wares for $100 and up.
Interview magazine will sponsor the opening night benefit Dec. 5, 7-10 p.m. The exhibits will be available for public viewing Dec. 5, noon-7 p.m., and Dec. 6-7, noon-8 p.m. Admission is $10.