The Abominable Museum: 1965 Reviews of LACMA

LACMA 1965 Aerial view

Michael Govan wants to tear LACMA down. That desire is not a new one, as revealed in Suzanne Muchnic’s new book LACMA So Far: Portrait of a Museum in the Making. The 1965 William Pereira building got zero-star reviews even when it was brand new.

For instance, Arts & Architecture magazine (of Case Study House fame) had a policy of writing about good architecture only. They made an exception for LACMA because “the result is so egregious and because it is a building designed not for a private client, who alone would suffer, but for the public.” Editor John Entenza wrote,

“It is—or could have been—an important building, the largest art museum built in the U.S. in 25 years and located in a city second only to New York in importance and second to none in growth and vitality And while the architecture is not the kind ordinarily, or up to now even extraordinarily, seen in Arts & Architecture, it has happened on our front stoop and demands comment.… [The overall effect is] theatrical rather than dramatic, pitiful rather than sad, Don Quixote without Sancho Panza; the buildings seem to reflect a longing to re-create a world that actually never existed, except in the disconnected images of neighboring Hollywood.” 

Katherine Kuh, in the Saturday Review, found LACMA “insensitive, even structurally obtuse… the total impact is singularly oppressive.”

The critics were a little kinder on the galleries, but Entenza found the lighting “so abominable that it must be seen to be believed.”

LACMA medieval gallery c. 1965. LIFE photo collection (c) Time, Inc.

LACMA medieval gallery c. 1965. LIFE photo collection (c) Time, Inc.

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