5 things you need to know about the George Lucas museum in Los Angeles

Chicago didn’t want Star Wars creator George Lucas’ Museum of Narrative Art, but Los Angeles was a different story. From the beginning, LA has opened its arms, and when it was announced this week that LA was chosen to be the museum’s home, Mayor Eric Garcetti reacted with exuberance, saying the city was “gaining a new jewel.”

Lucas and his wife, Mellody Hobson, will spend more than $1 billion to build the five-story museum on two parking lots on Vermont Avenue in Exposition Park, a sprawling site in South LA that’s also home to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

While we wait for the spaceship-looking museum to get built, here are five things worth knowing about it:

Why Los Angeles?

The location makes a lot of sense. Exposition Park holds three museums already, it has a stop on Metro’s new Expo Line light rail, and it’s right across the street from USC, Lucas’ alma mater. But LA wasn’t a shoe-in. It was competing with its perpetual rival, San Francisco, where Lucas has strong ties; he lives in Marin County, and he founded Lucasfilm in the Bay Area.

The San Francisco Chronicle had reported the prize would go to whichever city offered “fewer obstacles to getting the project finished.” (Lucas, 72, must be eager to open the museum; he’s been trying to find a home for it since 2012.)

Apparently, that was LA. Mayor Eric Garcetti and other bigwigs were really gunning for it. The Hollywood Reporter says DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg “relentlessly pushed” behind the scenes, and Michael Govan, director of LACMA, was instrumental in lobbying efforts, too.

It’s not just a Star Wars museum

Sure, the museum will hold Star Wars memorabilia, but the collection will be a lot bigger and more varied than that. Curbed’s Urbanism Editor Alissa Walker wrote about the collection for Gizmodo in 2014, saying it “will focus on the power of a single image to tell a story, inspire emotion, or encapsulate universal truths.” She noted that Lucas is a longtime collector of Norman Rockwell paintings, and those, along with other works from his personal trove will serve as the seed for the museum’s collection.

San Francisco Chronicle’s Charles Desmarais says he was the first journalist to take an extensive look at the look at the collection. He has said it could be the start of a wonderful museum. But other critics aren’t impressed. The Los Angeles Times’ Christopher Knight has taken to calling it the “Treacle Museum.”

The museum’s website says to think about the collection in three themes: The history of narrative art, the art of cinema, and digital art. Here’s a glimpse at some of the art that will hang in the museum: In addition to the permanent collection and special exhibits, the museum will host daily film screenings, public lectures, and hands-on workshops.

It’s a big deal ... or is it?
  • “This is a real triumph for the city of L.A., and this will be a transformative opportunity for L.A.,” Katzenberg told the Times.

  • “It’s logical, it’s appropriate, it’s thrilling ... this is going to make us the buzz capital of the world,” Selma Holo, director of the USC Fisher Museum of Art, told the Los Angeles Daily News.

  • It’s “one of the most important cultural and tourist additions to our city in the last 25 years,” philanthropist Eli Broad told the Times.

With the recent openings of The Broad, Sprueth Magers, Hauser &Wirth, and the forthcoming museum from the Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles is already well on its way to cementing its reputation as a hotbed for art. The addition of the Lucas museum might elevate its cultural status. But the people turning up their noses at the Lucas collection may be right, in which case, it might just draw a lot of Star Wars fans.

The futuristic design

The museum, designed by MAD architects, will look unlike any other buildings we have in Los Angeles.

The firm was founded by one of China’s best-known architects, Ma Yanson, who is a protege of the late Zaha Hadid. A digital designer, Yanson creates free-form structures inspired by nature. His firm is based in Beijing, but it has an office in Santa Monica, and in 2015, it unveiled renderings for its first U.S. project, a residential complex in Beverly Hills that will be wrapped in a “‘living wall” of native, drought-tolerant succulents and vines.’”

Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne draws similarities between the Lucas museum and Peter Zumthor’s unpopular proposal for the LACMA redesign, because both are proposed as fluid structures that float above parks. But while the LACMA proposal looks like a giant tar splatter,KCRW’s Design and Architecture says the Lucas museum looks more like the “sole of a high-tech running shoe.”

When will it open?

Construction could start as soon as the end of this year, with an opening date pegged for 2021.

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Anie Mayelian  (818) 915-9118 
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