Lucas Museum lifts off in Expo Park

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The futuristic Ma Yansong-designed Lucas Museum of Narrative Art is officially under construction in Exposition Park.

The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art features art that tells a story, as opposed to fine art that’s more abstract or conceptual. These are pictures with narrative quality.

Think Norman Rockwell’s Americana scenes, Maynard Dixon’s Western landscapes, Robert Crumb’s cartoons, Frank Frazetta’s science fiction art and hundreds of other art pieces by Degas, Homer, Renoir and others, illustrations from children’s books, digital technologies, and of course, “Star Wars” and other film memorabilia.

Narrative art is popular, but it’s art that tends to get looked down at by the fine art world.

“The popular part of it is very important. And that has a tendency to get lost in the modern hubbub of modern society, about what is art supposed to do for a society,” Lucas said at the groundbreaking event.

“I believe in all kinds of art. And I believe all kinds of art have a right to exist. And I think it’s important to have a museum that, I used to jokingly say, supports all the orphaned arts that nobody else wants to see — but everybody loves.”

Ma Yansong of MAD Architects designed the new museum, which resembles a silver spaceship and is meant to “talk to the natural environment around the site.” Image courtesy of Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Everybody may love this art, but it took the museum a while to find a home.

Lucas and his wife Mellody Hobson have privately funded the museum with a gift of over $1 billion.

It was previously going to be housed in San Francisco and then Chicago, but both proposals collapsed after strong community opposition.

In fact, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti joked about how he called Lucas to ask what were LA’s chances of wooing the museum — and Lucas told him 95 percent chance no. Garcetti said that’s all we need, 5 percent.

Garcetti called the museum “a new heart for our creative city.”

“I love that George Lucas has said that stories matter, and that art is about stories, or can be about stories. Because I think the most compelling, or many of the most compelling pieces of art have always been about that human narrative. So this is like the modern day cave. Instead of watching the shadows dance off the firelight and listening to stories, people come in here and see it on the walls,” he said.

George Lucas, center, with wife Mellody Hobson, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and others at the groundbreaking event for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art on March 14, 2018. Photo by Avishay Artsy. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Museum officials and artists were on hand at the groundbreaking, including muralist Judy Baca, who is working with the museum to bring visitors to see her Great Wall of Los Angeles.

“I think a narrative art museum is a critical element in Los Angeles, because we have you know the art world, the MOCAs and the LACMAs and the mainstream art world. But this is a populist museum in some really powerful ways that will reach an audience that is probably not reached by the other museums,” Baca said.

Local officials are touting the hundreds of jobs that’ll be created, and the opportunity for school kids to come see this art. But it’s also bringing a very cool design.

Chinese architect Ma Yansong, of MAD Architects based in Beijing, designed the 300,000 square foot building. It involves a very long, sleek spaceship-like design that’s five stories and appears to float off the ground. But he calls the design organic and emphasizes the 11 acres of new park and garden space on the roof and on the ground underneath the floating structure.

“So we use very advanced technology for structure for a facade. So we want to make building look like from outer space. But at the same time talk to the natural environment around the site,” Yansong said.

The museums’s “organic architecture” will be surrounded by 11 acres of new park and garden space on the roof and on the ground underneath the floating structure. Image courtesy of Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.

L.A.-based landscape architecture firm, Studio-MLA is involved with the design of the gardens which will replace parking lots. There will also be two state-of-the-art movie theaters, restaurants, digital and editing classrooms and a free library.

Construction will be completed in 2021 — no date has been set for when the museum will open to the public — but this is all happening as that area is going through a big transition.

The ninth district, or as Councilmember Curren Price likes to call it, the “New Ninth” will be home to not just the Lucas Museum but also the Banc of California Stadium to house the Los Angeles Football Club, the city’s new soccer team. This is an area near USC — George Lucas’ alma mater — that is going through a revival, and the Lucas Museum is playing a big role in that.