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santa monica museum of art

Testing our multi-disciplinary skills, in September we completed a very fun project-ette with Elsa Longhauser, director of the Santa Monica Museum of Art. Elsa arrived with the concept of SMMOAsis: an intervention to the space directly outside the museum’s front door, with the goal to strengthen the physical identity of the museum and create an inviting place to pause in the precinct of the museum.

SMMOA has the advantage and disadvantage of being in the tumble of art-filled industrial buildings that make up Bergamot Station. Bergamot has a scruffy energy, but it was difficult to identify the museum as distinct from all the other entities there, especially because it’s located on a pedestrian alley with other galleries around it.

Our concept was to create a gradual densification of “signs” as you approached the front door of the museum, much like the gradual magnification of musical sound as you approach and pass by that urban gospel church on Sunday morning. Quick crescendo, quick decrescendo. How could we do it without too much architectural self-consciousness or too much money? And how could we reinforce the museum’s image of being vibrant and unexpected?

Jay Griffith, landscape architect, part of the collaboration, advocated for elimination of extraneous details, and repetition of a simple red color in all major elements. Three red perforated metal screens, each L-shaped, define three edges of the space.They’re built with sculptural precision by Cortney Lofton, of Lofton Contracting, Inc. Jay contributed a series of planters, each painted red. These moves bracketed the space well, but we still didn’t have anywhere for people to pause and dwell in the space. It needed another level of scale that was more human.

Elsa smartly saw a way to accomplish several things at once. Steve Keene, a New York artist known for his ability to explore several themes simultaneously at a truly galloping pace, had been invited for a resident week of painting pieces to be sold to the public to benefit the museum. Could we design a suite of furniture that he could paint, with the theme of “SMMOAsis”? We quickly came up with a number of pieces, to be built simply out of plywood, with lots of surface for paint. They’re designed to be caricatures of furniture, intentionally a little aesthetically awkward. The concept was fine tuned by museum registrar Santy Wang and furniture fabricator Brian Briggs, to make them easily stack for storage.

They complete the space: further “densification” as one approaches the front door, and a place to pause to think about that gorgeous Beatrice Wood exhibition you just saw, before you are thrust back out into the real world of trying to turn left onto Pico at rush hour.