Thursday, March 15, 2018

Good news: Lucas museum breaks ground somewhere other than Chicago

     Those who hooted down the white carbuncle that movie mogul George Lucas wanted to erupt next to Soldier Field can take a measure of vindication from the architectural illustrations released ahead of Wednesday's groundbreaking for the Star Wars creator's new Museum of Narrative Art.
     Gone is what Chicago wits dubbed "Jabba the Hutt's Palace" or "Space Mountain" when they were sending the project packing two years ago, replaced by a pair of joined ovals that looks very much like a star cruiser designed to dock at Spaceport Soldier Field. An homage perhaps.
     So maybe the old design wasn't so avant-garde after all.   
Architect's rendering of Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Los Angeles
    Not that the new design, also by Ma Yansong of MAD Architects, is much better—a bacterium caught in mid-mitosis. Inside, some vaguely familiar curving ceilings that, naturally, were praised to the skies by beneficiaries of the estimated $1 billion project.
     “The building itself will certainly be an icon of 21st century design,” said museum president Don Bacigalupi, perhaps before he got a good look at the interior, which looks more like an icon of Space Age design circa 1962, specifically, the TWA Terminal at JFK.
     This doesn't even touch upon the supposed purpose of the museum itself, the "narrative arts" an omnium gatherum category designed to enfold Lucas' vast holdings of "Star Wars" memorabilia, his Normal Rockwell and American illustration collections, and give the endeavor a sense of significance that just off-loading his keepsakes into a permanent home obviously lacked.
     And we can savor that the ground-breaking is being held in Los Angeles, in Exposition Park and not the $10, 99-year lease on Chicago's lakefront that the Park District and the City Council happily handed Lucas. The museum is a better fit for L.A., with its movie industry, and other vanity museums, like The Broad collection of contemporary art, and the Getty Museum and Villa.

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  1. The only thing from L.A. I wish were here is the weather.

  2. Absolutely, positively, no doubt about it. The museum belongs in La La land, not in Chicago. We do have our standards here, after all.


  3. The original "Star Wars" and its sequel (all I've seen or probably ever will) were silly, enjoyable space operas with cool special effects. Building a $1 billion shrine to them is ridiculous, even if you throw in the equivalent of a rich man's baseball cards and stamp collection, and dress it up in the utterly meaningless label of "narrative art."

    What annoyed me most during the struggle over the lakefront site was the constant iteration of "you're trying to preserve a parking lot." Talk about missing the point. Parking lots do not block the lakeshore vista, which is why they're allowed and buildings aren't under the law that Rahm etc. so blithely tried to ignore.

    1. Exactly. I kinda like parking lots. They're great places to park your car. And when a parking lot is no longer wanted, it can be converted to green-space in a month's time. How much trouble would it have been to evict Lucas and his enormous pile of road-salt? 99 years is a long time to expect Chicagoans to tolerate Lucasland on the lakefront.

  4. One would have to be a pretty cranky bastard to try and swim against the stream of this column, the approving comments, and the fact that this is a done deal, regardless. So, count me in! ; )

    I've never been a big Star Wars fan (though I've seen more of the movies than Bitter Scribe), so I'm not gonna miss this museum. And, in general, it makes more sense for it to be in L. A., I agree. That being said, while I was glad Chicago didn't get the Olympics, I wouldn't have been as quick to send Mr. Lucas, his oodles of cash, and his "rich man's baseball cards and stamp collection" packing. I certainly wouldn't have given him the land for $10, but I think such an attraction in Chicago may well have been a positive thing for the city.

    The wacky architecture would have fit right in next to the egregious Soldier Field abomination, and, I'm sorry, but I just don't consider everything east of LSD to be the "lakefront," whatever the legal definition is. That parking lot is only technically on the lakefront, IMHO, and that particular area, with SF, McCormick Place, a sledding hill, a harbor, a concert venue, the old Meigs Field terminal and now a new Northerly Island hill offers practically no "lakeshore vista" to block, as it is. One would be better able to enjoy a view of the lake from the upper floors of a museum there, as one can from the Field Museum, than one can from the ground. For whatever that's worth...

  5. I don’t disagree on the (non)impact of landing the Lucas Museum, but it’s the NIMBY mindset that Chicago is so proud of, that I have a problem with. Also, I’ll take Watts Tower. Or The Broad. Or the Getty. Or Getty Villa. Or Museum of Jurassic Technology or any number of the wonderful things that LA has. To say Chicago is perfectly fine not wanting nor caring about any of LA’s enviable cultural institutions is to be defensive and in denial. This mindset of putting up a fight against change under the guise of “good taste” or whatever middle-brow notions, is how LA swiftly passed Chicago by to become a formidable art center with a massive contemporary art collection, the size of which Chicago SHOULD have. But of course, we’re okay with that. Really, we are! Who wants to be an art capital? Certainly we don’t! We want Amazon and tech bros.

    1. I did pause, writing that, but then shrugged and thought, "If you are going to take Vienna, take Vienna." I agree with you about Watts Towers -- which I made a pilgrimage to once between flights at LAX. While I always stand by what I write, on that point, I was ... carried away. I'd take the entire Deco District, frankly, especially Central Market. So I am justly called out, and accept my chastisement.


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