Sunday, June 23, 2013

Los Angeles Architecture and Design Museum: Astutely ironic, or just terrible?

Christine and I returned this week from a lovely nine-day vacation throughout California. It is my intention to make a few more postings about this trip, but if history is any indication, I will not. Such is life. Anyhow, we saw lovely places, great friends, and some pretty fascinating wildlife.

And, probably the worst museum I've ever visited in my life.

We had heard some good things about the Los Angeles Architecture and Design Museum. With minimal investigation, we took the recommendation at face value. With a few days in LA, and neither of us, nor our friendly companions, having visited said museum previously, we decided to give it a shot. Now, you may be saying "What the heck does Los Angeles have to do with architecture and design? Isn't that city sort of infamous for not having any of either?" I'll get to that.

We entered the museum, having paid our $10 fee. The exhibit when we entered was called "Windshield Perspective." It was a series of photographs giving a perspective of driving down Beverly Boulevard. But there wasn't really any information on these buildings. It was as though the curator/exhibit creator had gone to the hall of records and simply charted what building had been there for each census, dating back to the 1920's. A few of the placards had additional information on a current or past business, but most of it read like a business database. Informational, perhaps, but not really the sort of thing I pay to see in a museum. And not even the dates that the new business moved in, or interviews/quotes from neighbors about the turnover, or how the boulevard had changed over the years. Just what had been at each number on that block in 1930, 1935, 1940, 1945, 1950...

As if mocking itself, the museum was interspersed with quotes from philosophers or other famous folk, seemingly with nothing to do with Los Angeles or architecture. Kierkegaard had lots of interesting things to say, but I'm not sure what the application was here.

After completing the exhibit, we were rather stunned to find that it was not just the opening room, but the entire museum. One room, with pictures of a city street.

Then, the punch line:

So was this a well-meaning exhibit gone wrong? Or was it a clever way of saying "Yeah, Los Angeles doesn't give a crud about architecture and design. In fact, we spit in the face of such things. We just had an entire museum dedicated to the poorly-planned, uninteresting mundanity that characterizes so much of our city."

As a free museum, it might have been a lark. For $10 though, my expectations weren't through the roof - just that maybe the museum would be more interesting than the pictures of old local sport clubs that you find in Applebee's.

This current exhibit runs through July 9th. Even if the effect was intended, I cannot recommend this to anyone. There simply is not enough there, as you wait for the punch line, to warrant the entrance fee.

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