Monday, March 18, 2019

Grand Plans

Hello Everyone:

It is a bright and warm sunny Monday afternoon and the start of a fresh week on the blog,  Blogger has to put on a sunny face, no choice.  The horrific events in Christchurch, New Zealand and Utrecht, the Netherlands are so overwhelmingly awful that a sunny disposition is the best response.  Speaking of response, or lack of, was that difficult for the president to take a break from his weekend rant and tweet his condolences to the families of those killed in New Zealand or the Netherlands?  Apparently, trashing the late-Senator John McCain and former Vice President Joe Biden was also far more important.  When asked by reporters if the president thought growing white supremacist act was a threat to national and global security, he minimized it, not a big concern to him.  Showing his support for his favorite Fox News presenters was more of a concern.  By the way, his reason for the weekend tweet storm: He wanted to get all the distractions out of the way ahead of the Mueller report, is truly lame.  Alright, on to happier things.

Image result for moca los angeles building
Museum of Contemporary Art
Los Angeles, California

  On July 31, 2018, ArtNews announced that the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, California appointed Klaus Biesenbach as its new director (; July 31, 2018; date accessed Mar. 18, 2019).  Mr. Biesenbach served as the curator of the Museum of Modern Art, and its satellite PS1,  film and media department.  He was unanimously chosen from a pool of nearly 40 candidates after period turmoil that included the controversial firing of chief curator Helen Moleworth, sparking rumors of behind the scenes politics. (Ibid)  Before we plunge into Mr. Bisenbach's vision for the museum, it would be helpful to take a look at the building itself.

Image result for arata isozaki
Arata Isozaki

MOCA Los Angeles was established in 1979 as the only artist-founded museum in the city (; date accessed Mar. 18, 2019).  In 1987, MOCA Los Angeles opened the doors at its permanent building on Bunker Hill, in Downtown Los Angeles.  Japanese Architect and newly minted Pritzker Prize winner Arata Isozaki designed a building that contrasted with the surrounding towering steel and glass high rises (; date accessed Mar. 18, 2019).  The MOCA Los Angeles is a "sunken, red sandstone-clad space.  The entrance is marked by an arch leading to a subterranean terraced courtyard.  Under and around the courtyard are the public galleries.  Only four of its seven levels are above the street level" (Ibid).  Arata Isozaki referenced East Asian design traditions with play between positive and negative--the building and courtyard--space (Ibid).  The Museum sits on Grand Avenue, near the Disney Concert Hall, the Broad Museum, and the Colburn School of Music, creating a potentially exciting cultural corridor.  Newly installed MOCA Los Angeles director Klaus Bisenbach has grand (slight pun) plans for the museum.

Image result for Klaus Biesenbach
Klaus Bisenbach
Klaus Biesenbach took over The Museum's directorship in October of last year and almost immediately, he was intrigued by the buildings lining Grand Avenue.  He was fascinated by the ticket office, a cube clad wrapped in forest green aluminum panels.  The barrel vault that houses the library, hovering on a pair of pillars wrapped in red sandstone.  Then there are the skylight--all 11 of them in various sizes--designed as glass pyramids on the roofs (; Mar. 14, 2019; date accessed Mar. 19, 2019).  Mr. Biesenbach told the Los Angeles Times that the "stripped-down geometric forms,..., remind him of minimal works by artists featured in MOCA's galleries" (Ibid).  He said, 

It was an immediate dialogue with artists I've worked with... I felt [Isozaki] is so clear about these simple geometric shapes.  There is clarity. (Ibid)

During his initial meeting with the MOCA Los Angeles board in Autumn 2018, he presented an informal slide show on the building's design, highlighting every cube, cylinder, triangle, and square.  He was asked by the board if he liked the building?  Surprised by the question, he replied 

I said, This is such an important piece of architecture, we need to let it shine. (Ibid)

Mr. Biesenbach's praise of The Museum, a building respected but not necessarily loved by locals, got a boost about two weeks when Arata Isozaki was named the recipient of the 2019 Pritzker Prize (Ibid: Mar. 5, 2019).  In its citation, the Pritzker jury described Mr. Isozaki's  work as for meaningful architecture,... he created buildings of great quality that to this day defy categorizations... (; date Mar. 18, 2019)

Image result for MOCA LA pyramids
MOCA Los Angeles pyramid skylights
A very happy coincidence for Mr. Biesenbach, did away with a program, established by his predecessor, Philippe Vergne, that wrapped the facade in art, obscuring the building's profile.  In January, Mr. Biesenbach presented a plan to the board to restore one of the building's original details, skylights.  

The pyramid skylights had been covered up to prevent sunlight from damaging the canvas artwork, but it separated The Museum, most of which is underground, from the outside world.  Over the years, more and more sophisticated technology was employed to control the light without damaging the art.  Currently, light studies are being conducted with the support of trustee Marina Kellen French to find out what are the alternatives.  Mr. Biesenbach wants to deploy the recommendations this year.

There are other components to his plan: "Biesenbach doesn't just want the skylights to draw lights into the museum; he wants them to emit it as well" (; Mar. 14, 2019).  He said,

We want to light them at night,... Isozaki envisioned them as beacons (Ibid).

Klaus Biesenbach is also interested in how MOCA Los Angeles relates to its urban environment.  His central mission is "not only to display art but to support artists and greater civic life" or as he put it, To be a resident amongst residents (Ibid; Nov. 8, 2018).  How this vague concept could take form is open to interpretation.  Suffice it to say Mr. Biesenbach believes,

As a museum, you have a civic responsibility, you have a role in society, you have to be courageous, you have to open your doors to allow for dialogue (Ibid)

The Museum of Contemporary Art's potential is what drew Mr. Bisenbach, who describes it as MoMA and MoMA PS1 in one, referencing the properly lit and climate controlled Grand Avenue Campus and its sister museum the Geffen Contemporary.  Photographer and board member Catherine Opie enthused,

What Klaus will bring is the ingenuity of what he did at PS1.  Nobody thought this museum in Queens would rise to the position that it did,... I feel he'll bring an enormous amount of energy as well as support for the roots of MOCA being an artists' museum (Ibid)

Right now, the immediate plan is developing a vision for the museum and aligning the board, staff, and all other concerned parties.  This could translate into more modest goals, not necessarily blockbuster exhibits or new structures.  Mr. Biesenbach admits that programming could do a better job of reflecting just how multi-cultural Los Angeles is by showcasing work by Asian and Latino communities.

Klaus Biesenbach is not without his critics, who complained that he was just another white European male museum director.  He does not see himself like that, at least by his own admission, does not act like that, whatever that is.  For his part, growing up queer in near Cologne, Germany meant never being part of the majority.  It meant growing up with the fear of not dying of AIDS.  

Regardless, Klaus Bisenbach envisions the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles as part of the urban fabric, in dialogue with high rises and cultural venues that surround it.  It will be exciting to see how his grand plan takes shape.   

No comments:

Post a Comment