Big Questions Loom Over Academy Museum as New Director Begins

Big Questions Loom Over Academy Museum
Valerie Macon/Getty Images

Even before he starts work on July 1, Kerry Brougher has his hands full.

Brougher will become director of the proposed Academy Museum, a project embroiled in shifting personnel, a withering review in the Los Angeles Times and general anxiety over a $300 million project that’s been in the planning stages for 10 years and isn’t slated to open until 2017.

He comes to the job with both film and museum bona fides, having worked at MOCA from 1983-97, then as director of the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford, England, and most recently as interim director and chief curator of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.

But in his new post, he will be under the klieg lights of Hollywood — which means he’ll have to do his job while facing skeptics from both the museum and showbiz realms.

The Academy says it carefully vetted Brougher before offering him the job, and his supporters are confident he’s fit for the role. Already, however, there’s been controversy. Academy CEO Dawn Hudson was sent an anonymous letter (Variety also received a copy), claiming Brougher had trouble with co-workers during his tenure at MOCA. Several people who have worked with him pooh-pooh the allegations, maintaining that the letter was written by a disgruntled former colleague.

Still, Brougher faces challenges.

The motion picture museum’s design is under fire. In 2012, the Academy hired L.A. architect Zoltan Pali and his Culver City firm, SPFA, to assist architect Renzo Piano with the blueprint. Pali abruptly left the project May 5, in what the Academy described as a normal move, but others viewed it as a sign of strained relations. His unexpected exit came just three weeks after a widely read piece in the L.A. Times, in which architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne charged that the site “has significant, even fundamental design flaws.” Pali was unavailable for comment.

Construction of the 290,000-square-foot museum is expected to begin later this year on the site of the former May Co. building on Wilshire Blvd.

Aside from design questions, Brougher will also have to manage expectations coming from the 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, many of whom will have strong ideas about what their museum should be. But Brougher’s biggest challenge will be the job itself. In starting the museum from the ground up, he has to help develop exhibits that will capture the many facets of filmmaking and incorporate enough glitz to attract tourists.

Despite the obstacles Brougher could face, Paul Schimmel, of the gallery firm Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, believes he is perfect for the job. “They needed someone from the museum world who knows and loves the history of film,” says Schimmel, a colleague of Brougher’s at MOCA. “He really understands Los Angeles in the global scheme of film arts.”

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