LOS ANGELES – In the dim light of a gutted department store, through the dust of nearby construction, Kerry Brougher sees a flickering movie future filled with “hundreds of different cinemas.” For tiny screens. Vast ones. Theaters yet to be conceived.
His problem now is to fit an art form that is already bursting through old walls into a new film museum that is being developed on the grounds of the old May Co. department store on Wilshire Boulevard here. Beginning on July 1, Brougher – until recently the interim director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington – will take charge of a still aborning Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, as its first director.
A project of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which presents the Oscars, the museum will include a large, spherical theater being designed by Renzo Piano, to provide a grandiose home for movie premieres. There also will be a large, forward-looking exhibition space to showcase the history and craftsmanship of film.
Organizers are planning a 2017 opening, which gives Brougher and his new colleagues about three years to figure out precisely what an ambitious museum of the movies should do.
“It is not a theme park,” said Brougher, a scholarly type who spoke last week in the clutter here in the Museum Row district, next to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. His past projects in the museum world included a show at the Museum of Contemporary Art here, exploring the interplay between the movies and visual artists like Edward Hopper and Mimmo Rotella.
What it will be, he continued, is a museum of quality that “is going to present the history and an appreciation of motion pictures from the start to the present, and help create the future of cinema.”
He is already confronting decisions, large and small, that will build toward realizing the museum’s mission statement.
There will be international film, for instance, but the emphasis will be domestic, perhaps leaning toward Los Angeles. There will be R-rated exhibitions, too, but Brougher said he had not quite figured out how to caution the public when the harsher elements are on display.
Piano’s sphere will be transparent, providing a view of the Hollywood hills, Brougher said. (The design has been criticized by Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic for The Los Angeles Times, as being insufficiently integral to the city.)
As such, he said, the view provides conceptual guidance. The theater in its base will be a gathering place for the film industry. But the dome overhead, Brougher said, is an invitation to project the influence of film, and to create works that he envisions being sponsored by the museum.
“I would imagine we wouldn’t do many feature films,” Brougher said, referring to his plan to create films to be shown in the museum’s three theaters. But he talked of “installation-based projects” that would help expand the definition of movies.
(Queried separately, Stephen Ujlaki, dean of Loyola Marymount’s School of Film and Television and a producer, cautioned that commissioning works would “obviously require a hefty endowment.” Ujlaki suggested bending the new work toward West Coast filmmakers, and community-based organizations like the Ghetto Film School.)
In the museum’s core, Brougher said, there will be two tracks. One, which will have at least some artifacts from the Academy’s already large collection (one of the pairs of Dorothy’s ruby slippers included), should be mostly permanent and will trace the industry’s history. Ideally, Brougher said, the visitor should feel as if being drawn into a film once walking through the museum door.
The second track will be about the art of what Brougher likes to call “cinema.” (He has a master’s degree in film history from the University of California, Los Angeles.) Built around more temporary exhibits – which could conceivably feature screenings, posters, photographs, props from a set, letters, or designs and personal artwork – that part brings questions of its own.
Yes, he said, less-than-perfect movies will find a place. “Studying film history told me, probably more than being an art curator, not to be too quick to judge the quality of something by whether it was an A, a B or a C movie,” he explained.
A central question, Brougher said, is how to take visitors out of the illusions of film and reveal the mechanics of how things are done, or whether to do it at all. He clearly leans more toward image than technology, saying, “When they leave, people should understand, if nothing else, that film is an art form.”
But Brougher allows that technology, small screens and the possibility of creating optional micro-experiences might let some visitors learn all they would like about film makeup or matte paintings without burdening those who would rather not know.
Brougher is mindful of the extreme disruption that is pointed toward the mid-Wilshire district, where tunneling for a new subway line and stations, along with possible renovation to other nearby museums, is already tearing up streets and chasing tenants out of Museum Row.
“Our entire block is being torn down for construction,” said Tibbie Dunbar, director of the A+D Architecture and Design Museum, which is currently just across the boulevard from the new movie museum, but will soon be forced to relocate, probably to downtown Los Angeles.
The film museum, Brougher acknowledged, will almost surely have to open in the middle of the coming havoc, which is expected to include heavy vibration from the underground drilling.
“Maybe we should build the first show around ‘Earthquake,’ ” he said.