For months, some three dozen Southern California architects have been laboring on a major exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles. “A New Sculpturalism: Contemporary Architecture from Southern California” was intended to shine a light on the last quarter century of avant-garde design in Los Angeles, the city that has produced Pritzker Prize–winners Thom Mayne, FAIA, and Frank Gehry, FAIA.
But a story published by Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne on Wednesday (and updated today) has left a large question mark dangling over the future of one of the biggest exhibits of the “Pacific Standard Time Presents” series.
The article reported that Gehry would no longer participate in the show—leaving a gaping hole in the programming. “I am fearful it’s going to be canceled,” the exhibition’s guest curator Christopher Mount told the L.A. Times. The story also reported that alternative venues were being considered. The show is scheduled to open on June 2; the catalog was released late last month.
“If the show doesn’t go through, it will not be good for L.A.,” says Greg Lynn, of Greg Lynn FORM, the winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2008. Lynn, who is a subject in the show, first heard about the possibility of a cancellation from the L.A. Times. “It’s not been an entirely clear process from the start,” he says. “I had a few meetings where I never really got the whole picture for the concept of the show. But I did get the sense that it was starting to come together.”
But why exactly "A New Sculpturalism," a show two years in the making, is facing cancellation is not yet clear. Gehry questioned the scholarship and focus. On Thursday, in a follow-up story published by the Architect’s Newspaper, Mount said that MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch had halted installation of “A New Sculpturalism” several weeks ago due to financial issues. (The museum did not respond to requests for comment.) Since 2008, MOCA has made headlines for its financial problems. Lay-offs, pay cuts, and reduced hours have followed. In 2009, the museum laid off architecture and design curator Brooke Hodge and canceled an exhibit on Morphosis. Though there have been recent efforts on behalf of some trustees to bolster the museum’s endowment, MOCA currently has only two full-time curators on its staff, neither of whom is focused on architecture.
For the purpose of “A New Sculpturalism,” the museum brought on Mount, an independent curator who worked at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and who briefly served as the executive director of the Pasadena Museum of California Art in 2008. Whether his show fell victim to curatorial disorder or financial problems, or both, remains difficult to ascertain. (At press time, he was unavailable for comment.)
But it is worth noting that MOCA received a $445,000 grant from the Getty Foundation for the purpose of the exhibition. Whether the museum would have to return the grant if the show fails to open is another big question. “In the realm of speculation, any time—and it is very rare—any time a grantee’s project doesn’t happen, we have procedures we follow,” said Getty Foundation director Deborah Marrow, in a statement to the L.A. Times. “It rarely happens but it does occasionally. And we deal with it.”
A number of L.A. architects are left wondering whether all their work will be for naught. Void's Arshia Mahmoodi is rebuilding a model of an older design at his own expense for the exhibit. “Until I officially hear something from MOCA, we’ll keep pushing forward," he says. Marcelo Spina, a principal at P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S, and Elena Manferdini, of Atelier Manferdini, are in the midst of producing elaborate pavilions. While they say the museum provided them each with a budget of $25,000, those funds do not cover the actual expense of fabricating structures out of materials such as aramid fiber tape and powder-coated folded aluminum. Manferdini applied for two additional grants to cover her costs. “We are in the middle of construction,” says Manferdini, who first learned about the exhibit’s problems from Hawthorne's report. “I can’t think this won’t happen.”
In addition to producing a torqued rectangular pavilion—for which he raised funds online—Spina says that his firm was also preparing to show a model and various designs. While he dreads the possibility that the show might be canceled for personal reasons, he says there are larger issues at stake.
“If you look at all the architectural shows around the country, there are very few that focus on contemporary work,” Spina says. “In a place like L.A., you have a hotbed of young and talented people like nowhere else in the U.S. The architectural culture really gets hurt if this show doesn’t happen.”