Billionaires Dig Frank Gehry

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

I recently watched a video of George Lucas being interviewed by Charlie Rose in Chicago. The topic: Lucas’ recently announced plans for a museum devoted to narrative art. Those plans were adopted by Chi-Town officials after Lucas’ native San Francisco turned up its nose at the project.

Lucas is an interesting figure. Personality-wise, he’s always struck me as less of a traditional artist and more of a businessman/Yankee tinkerer. I don’t mean that as a put-down. I think his peculiar set of personality traits is what makes him interesting as a filmmaker, even if those traits are partly to blame for a fair number of movies that are virtually lifeless in terms of drama, personality, and performance. Filmmaking talents aside, there’s no doubt that he’s a thoughtful and independent-minded guy. When Marin County residents objected to his plans to expand his movie studio, Lucas told them to buzz off and threatened to sell the land to a low-income housing concern. Suck it, snooty hand-wringers.

Some have rolled their eyes at Lucas’ museum idea: I’ve heard it referred to semi-derisively as the “Star Wars Museum.” But, kook that I am, I see some merit in his plans. He wants to create a venue for the appreciation of all the populist art that existing museums tend to ignore or keep hidden away in their basements. That means work by 20th-century painters like Norman Rockwell and Andrew Wyeth, as well as material related to commercial art, movies, and comic books. If you’re like me you harbor a suspicion that a lot of this stuff is culturally more meaningful (whatever “meaningful” might end up implying in this context), and might very well last longer than, much of the Modern and Post-Modern stuff that’s been sold to us as praise-worthy by the cultural establishment.

So I listened with interest as Lucas described his plans, all the while thinking, “Right on! Screw the establishment, brother!”

Then, about midway through the interview, Rose asked Lucas who would design the building that is to house the collection. Without missing a beat Lucas changed course and charged headlong into a boilerplate let’s-plan-a-museum spiel. He talked about the need to find someone “leading-edge” who would design something “iconic” and “avant-garde,” something “no one has ever seen before” — sort of like what Frank Gehry has built in Bilbao.


So, in Lucas’ mind, the proper form for this cathedral to traditional storytelling, representational art, and man-on-the-street Americana is . . . a hodgepodge of steel and glass that looks like one of Michael Bay’s giant robots stalled in mid-transformation. What a weird disconnect!

Actually, I just Googled the museum, and it seems the planned look is closer to Disneyland circa 1975 than it is to either Gehry or “Transformers.” The Star Wars Museum, it turns out, will be housed in Space Mountain. How’s that for living down to your critics’ least charitable assumptions? (The design is by MAD, the folks responsible for this monstrous beached whale.)

Lucas isn’t without architectural good sense. Years ago I visited his Skywalker Ranch, where I found myself tickled by the very precise blend of the high-tech and the bucolic. There isn’t a car in sight (parking is underground), the main building is charmingly Victorian, and the various facilities are sprinkled across the rolling landscape among things like vineyards and man-made swimming holes. The overall effect is one of carefully planned organicness — something much closer to Frederick Olmstead than to Corporate Architecture Inc. The Ranch’s stunning library, an Arts-and-Crafts box topped by an enormous stained-glass dome, is one of the more inviting spaces I’ve been in.

So why, when talking about designing his museum, does Lucas reject what seems to be his default set of sensibilities and start babbling about iconic and avant-garde leading edges? Why, if his goal is to “challenge the way people think about museums,” is he rushing to build a routinely flashy showbauble rather than something that might compliment the populist, down-to-earth art he’s so keen to celebrate?

Lucas explained some of his thinking to Rose. He feels that, since modern architects tend to design on computers, their work is a natural complement to the “digital art” that his museum aims to showcase. Indeed, the museum’s website features a whole section devoted to buildings that were designed using software. This strikes me as a pretty weak alibi. For one thing, I’m not sure it’s possible to adequately present a building inside of a museum. (Do they intend to exhibit the plans on a bank of monitors? If so: Yuck.) For another, how the hell is Koolhaas’ imitation of the evil robot snake from “Demon Seed” narrative in nature?

My suspicion: The museum’s focus on digital architecture is a sort of post-hoc rationalization: It will feature ugly digital architecture in order to justify its own digital ugliness.

I’m also guessing that, though Lucas has thought a lot about what he wants to feature in the museum — he’s a collector of Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish, movie posters, and other things that are not contemporary art — he hasn’t devoted much thought to architecture. And so he’s comfortable relying on accepted practice where the design of the building is concerned. Of course, this theory fails to account for the meticulous loveliness of  Skywalker Ranch. But then maybe Lucas doesn’t look at what he did there as architecture. When you plant hedges and arrange flower-beds in your yard, do you think of yourself as an architect? When it comes to our everyday environments we often fail to think aesthetically. And we often think of architecture in heroic terms rather than as the stuff we live with each and every day.

Ultimately, I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Lucas is going the starchitect route. He’s a rich and powerful dude, and hiring a starchitect to build “important” buildings is simply one of the things that rich and powerful dudes enjoy doing. Maybe he’s entering a more conformity-minded stage of his life, one in which he’s eager to stop selling action figures and start moving in high-falutin’, non-entertainment circles. If so, he’s probably also eager to keep up with the Joneses. I see that he recently married Mellody Hobson, a Princeton grad and Chicago bigwig. I also note that he’s wont to refer to Chicago’s mayor as “Rahm.” Lucas, I suppose, is enjoying his clout and making new friends, and perhaps we should let him do it without snickering too much.

I see that Paleo Retiree shared some similar thoughts in the comments section of a recent Steve Sailer post. They’re worth quoting here:

The rich-and-powerful tend to do what other rich-and-powerful people do. Where big-ticket stuff goes, they don’t think deeply about it. They don’t have a lot of quirky personal tastes and preferences. They just choose from the same short list of sources and creators that everyone else like them chooses from. “Everyone else — everyone else like me, that is — is wearing Alexander McQueen, driving a Tesla, commissioning a Zaha Hadid and buying a Jeff Koons? Then I will too.”

In other words: Lucas might be an iconoclastic billionaire, but a billionaire is a billionaire. And billionaires dig Frank Gehry.


  • Predictably, the saner residents of Chicago have complained about Lucas’ Space Mountain. Even more predictably, Frank Gehry has called them misguided.

About Fabrizio del Wrongo

Recovering liberal arts major. Unrepentant movie nut. Aspiring boozehound.
This entry was posted in Architecture and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Billionaires Dig Frank Gehry

  1. agnostic says:

    Lucas doesn’t really like Rockwell, folk art, etc. He’s just exploiting it in his larger, ongoing battle of giving the finger to anyone who gets in the way of his stubborn toddler-like ego-inflation.

    They collect elite art? Then fuck ’em, I’ll collect popular art. My rich neighbors don’t want my movie studio to expand and more efficiently churn out a trilogy of prequels to Red Tails? Fuck ’em, we’ll dump the nigs on them (callous toward the downward spiral that would start in his own neck of the woods).

    Unlike owning individual works of art, not every rich person has commissioned a big-ass museum in a major world city. That’s not something that he has to do, only in his own against-the-grain way, to give his competitors the finger. Merely doing it makes the other super-rich people jealous. So why not do it in a style that they’d totally want to do it in themselves — if only they were as awesomely powerful as George Lucas?

    Marrying a negress is another instance of making large personal-life decisions just to give others the finger.

    But where does he get off making the finger his schtick? He’s not rebellious — he’s a meek, insecure, lardass dork, yet acts like he’s Billy fucking Idol. Chicks don’t dig you, dudes don’t wanna be like you (except the most mentally challenged nerdlingers).

    He’s made giving the finger his thing because it’s his stubborn toddler way of trying to cope with widespread rejection. The movies he’s had the most influence over, the audiences have spat out or dozed off to.

    Trying to reconcile his collecting folk art with commissioning an avant-garde museum — you’re assuming his guiding principle is populism, underdog-ism, or whatever. It’s not — it’s whining “Fuck you for rejecting me, I’ll show you!” Whether that leads him to folk or elite works depends on the case, it’s not a fundamental choice with him.


  2. agnostic says:

    Also LOL at outsourcing the design to the Chinese. Hiring a race of corner-cutters even with a $300 million budget. Amazing. Hope the thing doesn’t fall in on itself and damage your precious video game art, Georgie boy.


  3. lloydville says:

    Lucas’s architectural choice strikes me as more pathetic than arrogant — begging the cultural elite to take his Norman Rockwells seriously by housing them in the kind of crap building the cultural elite takes seriously. He would never advertise one of his pop movies that way.

    Liked by 1 person

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