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Academy Brings Architect Renzo Piano to N.Y. to Tout Movie Museum Plans

Ninety years after Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford first floated the idea of creating a museum for the movie business, the completion of Hollywood’s first major movie museum is finally nearing. Architect Renzo Piano and officials from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences traveled to Manhattan Monday to preview the project for East Coast press.

After fits and starts, funding headaches and clashing visions, the 300,000-square-foot Academy Museum will open in mid-2019. Its backers, AMPAS, better known as the group that hands the Oscars, promise that the museum will be an immersive experience that will feature everything from screenings to talks to props and items from iconic movies.

“It’s much more than a museum,” said Academy Museum director Kerry Brougher at the Plaza Hotel. “It’s a hub for film lovers…to come and experience film in different ways.”

The museum will cost in excess of $250 million and will consist of two structures. One is the historic Miracle Mile May Co. department store that has been retrofitted with exhibition space, a restaurant, and screening room. The other, a sphere-like building that looks like a more inviting Death Star, will boast a 1,000-seat theater that the Academy says will be among the finest in the world — capable of showing everything from silent films to 3D features.

“We’re going to look at film’s past, but we also want to look at where film is going,” said Brougher.

To that end, the museum’s collection consists of more than 12 million photographs, 190,000 film and video assets, 80,000 screenplays, 61,000 posters, and 104,000 pieces of production art. In recent years, the group has put a particular emphasis on collecting memorabilia and historic items. Highlights include a gorilla soldier head from “Planet of the Apes,” Harpo Marx’s wig, Jack Nicholson’s striped suit from “Chinatown,” the doors to Rick’s Cafe from “Casablanca,” and the tablets from “The Ten Commandments.”

“I don’t know if I can call this a museum or not,” said Piano, the superstar architect who is overseeing the project. “In some ways this is a museum. In some ways this is a factory.”

Piano, whose other works include the Centre Pompidou and the Morgan Library extension, said he was inspired by film’s interplay between light and darkness when it came to designing his new commission. He described the two buildings, which will be separated by glass-encased walkways, as flirting with each other. He also heaped praise on the medium, calling film the “only contemporary art form” and saying that “cinema is the best way to tell a story.”

The luncheon was intended to highlight the museum’s progress to New York press. It was held in the Oak Room, a posh eatery that has been showcased in such movies as “North by Northwest” and “The Post.” Guests dined on fennel-encrusted salmon and pistachio cake while heavy rain pounded against the hotel’s windows.

“If we were having this in L.A. there’d be about three people in the room,” said Brougher, a reference to the sun-soaked city’s intense fear of precipitation.

The Academy also used the event to announce that “Dunkirk” producer Emma Thomas and East West Bank Chairman Dominic Ng will join the museum’s board of trustees. The group is chaired by NBCUniversal vice-chairman Ron Meyer and also includes such Hollywood heavyweights as Annette Bening, Tom Hanks, Disney chief Bob Iger, and Paramount Pictures head Jim Gianopulos.

Piano and Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences CEO Dawn Hudson both noted that Los Angeles, the film capital of the world, has long needed to have a temple to its greatest export. Brougher, who previously worked at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum, had a different take on the long-gestating project.

“90 years by government standards is actually pretty fast,” he said.

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