L.A.'s George Lucas Museum Enters Crowded Cultural Landscape

Courtesy of Lucas Museum

The planned $1 billion "narrative art" collection could have some overlap with the Motion Picture Academy's $300 million showcase being built on Wilshire Boulevard. But it won't compete, says the Academy's museum director: "The Academy Museum welcomes its new cross-town neighbor."

As the creator of the Star Wars franchise, George Lucas is as close as one gets to Hollywood royalty. But proponents and representatives of his planned museum — The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art — are stressing that Los Angeles’ newest entry in the crowded field of cultural institutions is much more than an outpost for film memorabilia.

“It is not just Hollywood. Obviously, George Lucas is famous for his Star Wars franchise and for those narratives, and I assume the museum will have an aspect of that. But his real interest in this is to pursue the question of narrative art and those traditions,” ‪Los Angeles County Museum of Art director Michael Govan tells The Hollywood Reporter. “That includes everything from children’s books like Beatrix Potter and the golden age of American painting that might include Norman Rockwell or Maxfield Parrish,” he adds.

Lucas revealed Tuesday he will build a museum to house his collection not in San Francisco, home of Lucasfilm, but in the Exposition Park area of Los Angeles near his alma mater USC. Lucas declined to comment on the decision other than in a statement released by the museum’s board yesterday. 

According to the museum’s website, the collection will be organized into three verticals: the history of narrative art, digital art and the art of cinema. That third vertical includes the categories of set, makeup, prop and costume design along with visual effects and animation. It also is expected to include Lucas' treasure trove of Star Wars memorabilia, including an original Darth Vader mask. 

The art of cinema collection would seem to have some overlap with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts $300 million Renzo Piano-designed museum being built in the former May Company building at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax in the city's Miracle Mile area. The Academy's permanent collection will contain thousands of photographs, films, screenplays, posters and design drawings. The organization has undertaken an aggressive fundraising drive to build the museum. 

According to Kerry Brougher, director of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures,  Lucas’ institution should not be viewed as any sort of competitor. "The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures welcomes its new cross-town neighbor, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art,” Brougher says in a statement. “With their complementary perspectives on storytelling and filmmaking, our two institutions will further elevate Los Angeles’ role as a global hub for art and culture.”

In almost any other city, at almost any other time, Tuesday’s announcement that Lucas will spend $1 billion to build a neo-galactic-looking facility to house his world-class art collection would dominate the local news. But in modern Los Angeles, where the art museum landscape is as fecund as anywhere in the world, it is increasingly hard to stand out.

In 2015, after $90 million in dramatic renovations, the ‪Petersen Automotive Museum reopened. Just down the street, LACMA continues its push to raise $600 million for its Peter Zumthor redesign. Further east in Koreatown, the Marciano Art Foundation, the ‪contemporary art museum from Guess co-founders Paul and Maurice Marciano, is scheduled to open this spring. Meanwhile in downtown L.A., the year-old Broad Museum recently announced that it had drawn 820,000 visitors in its inaugural year. The Arts District now boasts the Hauser Wirth & Schimmel gallery and the ‪Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles.

Observers believe the Lucas Museum, planned to open in 2020, will complement rather than compete with many of these institutions, especially the Academy museum. Tourists looking for a slice of Hollywood history likely will be tempted to visit both. And its Star Wars memorabilia and Lucas' brand name could introduce a new clientele to museum patronage that might not otherwise be interested. 

Indeed, LACMA’s Govan believes the unique approach the Lucas Museum is taking will allow it to not only compliment L.A.’s other museums, but also thrive on its own. “L.A. has always been a creative center and the institutions are catching up with that,” he says.