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$45-million gift to unify LACMA campus

September 29, 2008|Reed Johnson | Times Staff Writer

In a move that will significantly bolster the ongoing expansion and refurbishment of the region's largest public art museum, a Los Angeles philanthropic couple will give $45 million to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and be honored with a new exhibition pavilion bearing their names.

The new Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion, a one-story structure designed by architect Renzo Piano and enclosed in glass and travertine marble, will be named for the donors, Beverly Hills residents whose vast business holdings include a floral wire service, a bottled-water enterprise and some of the nation's largest orchards. Lynda Resnick has served on LACMA's board of trustees since 1992 and is chair of the museum's acquisitions committee.

The Resnicks, longtime art collectors, have also promised LACMA unspecified gifts of art valued at $10 million.

The new pavilion will be immediately north of the $56-million Broad Contemporary Art Museum, also designed by Piano, which opened in February. It will mark the initiation of what LACMA is calling Phase II of its plan to upgrade and unify the sprawling, somewhat patchwork campus that occupies a lengthy stretch of Wilshire Boulevard. The new pavilion is expected to open in mid-2010.

The donation will be formally announced at a news conference this morning at the museum.

"This is really like a big historic event," Michael Govan, LACMA's director and chief executive, said in an interview last week. "This is what LACMA has wanted for a long time."

Govan said the new pavilion, which will rise about 28 feet from ground level and contain 45,000 square feet of exhibition space, could be used to host a variety of traveling and special exhibitions, including some drawn from LACMA's own collections. It will be the eighth building on the LACMA campus, which stretches from the La Brea tar pits on the east to the former May Co. department store on Fairfax Avenue to the west.

The gift's timing also ensures that expansion plans will proceed apace on a complex that historically has grown mainly in fits and starts.

"I'm so grateful to Lynda and Stewart not just for doing it but for doing it now," Govan said. "It should be a wave of momentum."

In an interview at the couple's art- and antiques-filled home, Lynda Resnick expressed hope that the new pavilion would augment Piano's and LACMA's vision of creating a more physically open, less imposing campus where visitors would feel more welcome than they may have in earlier phases of the museum's life.

"We're a county museum, and we serve the people, so if we intimidate the people we're not serving them," she said. She described the new pavilion as "a lovely Renzo building" that "won't overwhelm the art. It will enhance it."

The Resnicks' gift represents more than double their previously announced pledge of $25 million to fund a new entrance pavilion for the museum.

When BP (formerly known as British Petroleum Co.) stepped forward in March 2007 with its own $25-million gift to sponsor what is now known as the BP Grand Entrance, an open-air, solar-paneled structure, the Resnicks, in consultation with Govan, decided to increase and redirect their gift as part of Phase II, which also will include an overhaul of the former May Co. building, now known as LACMA West.

While Govan termed the Resnicks' change of plans "a leap of faith," the couple expressed confidence in the 45-year-old director, who took over LACMA's top job two years ago.

"We're very impressed with the leadership; we're very impressed with the institution," Stewart Resnick said.

Jane Nathanson, a LACMA trustee and close friend of the Resnicks who with her husband, Marc, recently gave $10 million to the museum, said that Govan had been "very persuasive" in making the case for the new building. She said the Resnick Pavilion will be a step forward in LACMA's goal of creating a coherent design complex that allows visitors to survey what the museum hopes eventually will be an encyclopedic collection.

"It will sort of complete the circle that people will make," Nathanson said of the new structure.

Architecturally, the pavilion will be a clear relative of the taller Broad building. Like the Broad, its roof will feature a saw-toothed configuration of panels that will allow carefully filtered light to pour in.

Govan likened the new pavilion in some respects to the Dia: Beacon building, the former Nabisco factory on the Hudson River that was converted into a museum during Govan's tenure as director of the New York-based Dia Art Foundation.

"Here's the beauty of the building," Govan said of the Resnick addition. "It's all skylights. So there's the wow factor."

Although Govan said he could not yet name specific exhibitions that would be held at the new building, he mentioned an upcoming show of late-period Renoir works as well as exhibitions taken from the museum's costumes and textiles department as possible candidates.

He also reiterated his belief that LACMA's expansion, though large in scale, is necessary even in these times of economic uncertainty.

"I believe we're not expanding beyond our means relative to the scale of the city," Govan said. "We're playing catch-up."

reed.johnson@latimes.com

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