A Preview Of The Renzo Piano-Designed Academy Museum Of Motion Pictures, Set To Open In 2019

By Matt Stromberg

Los Angeles has seen a flurry of museum activity recently with the openings of the Main Museum, the ICA, and the Marciano Foundation all within the past year. At a press event on Wednesday, guests got a chance to glimpse the latest addition to the field, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which is set to open in 2019. As the museum’s director Kerry Brougher explained, he envisions it as a “museum as campus, a film hub” that will feature permanent and rotating exhibitions, as well as film screenings and talks, a place where “film lovers can come to discuss film.” Seemingly catering to the current craze for Instagram-able museum moments, visitors will also be able to hold their own Oscar, democratizing an experience once reserved only for Hollywood elites. Surprisingly, this is the first substantial film museum in L.A., “a company town,” as Kathleen Kennedy, Vice President of Lucasfilm, Ltd. put it.

Located on Wilshire Boulevard next to LACMA and just down the street from the La Brea Tar Pits, the museum is housed in the renovated May Company, a department store originally built in 1939, now renamed the Saban Building after Haim and Cheryl Saban who donated $50 million to the project. Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano is behind the museum’s design that also includes a 130-foot high glass and concrete sphere, which bears a presumably unintentional resemblance to the Death Star. The sphere will house a 1000-seat theater, while below the structure an open, shaded piazza serves as a gathering space. The Saban building, which is connected to the sphere by three glass bridges, will house a smaller theater, as well as 50,000 feet of exhibition space, with a total area of almost 300,000 square feet. Rooftop terraces offer scenic views of the surrounding area, including of course, the Hollywood sign. Since the Streamline Moderne-style façade of the May Building is a historical landmark, Piano is leaving it untouched, but thoroughly updating the interior.

The Museum’s collection, which, unlike mega-museum the Broad’s, will be housed offsite, features over 12 million photographs, and hundreds of thousands of screenplays, posters, and production drawings, as well as 2500 objects chronicling the history of cinematic technology, costumes, makeup, and production design. Some highlights include one pair of Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz, the tablets from The Ten Commandments, and the actual head-piece designed by H.R. Geiger and worn by 6’ 10” actor Bolaji Badejo in Alien. With such impressive holdings, the Academy Museum has the potential to be “a truly magical and enchanting dreamscape” for film lovers as Brougher put it, illuminating both the cultural and technological history of cinema.

The museum will also have its work cut out for it however, to show the challenges the industry faces to stay relevant to an increasingly diverse audience. The Academy in particular has come under scrutiny in recent years with #OscarsSoWhite campaign calling attention to its lack of diversity. The exhibition schedule hasn’t been made public yet, but curators said these were important issues they were thinking about seriously. With over a year before the Museum opens, hopefully they can figure out a way to address film’s 100-year legacy in shaping the city of LA, as well as bring to light ways in which it can remain a vital art form for a broad spectrum of the public.


Matt Stromberg is a freelance visual arts writer based in Los Angeles.