#548: Weak Force: Why the Lucas Museum Should Fail

October 28th, 2015

The design for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art by architect Ma Yansong is a futuristic beauty, hearkening to a chalk-colored volcano along the shore.

The landscaping will be done by SCAPE and Studio Gang, and after the triumph of Aqua a building short of the river’s edge, anything within a mile of Jeanne Gang is OK in my book.

It will be lovely.

Fuck lovely.

I like the idea of a museum devoted to narrative art from comic strips to pin-ups. But the $400 million plan is flawed, the collection ill-defined at best, laughable at worst, and the land a public trust that deserves more respect than to be foisted to a billionaire as thanks for making up light sabers.

So, venturing from vignette to editorial, here’s 1,001 Chicago Afternoons’ reasons the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art should, either through the pending city council vote or the current lawsuit by Friends of the Parks, go down in flames like the lumbering AT-AT it is.

The Collection

The Lucas Museum will have a collection the size of… dunno.

That’s not sarcasm. The only indication of the size of the collection comes from disclaimers on the website about what’s in the “seed collection,” divided into the three sections of Narrative Art, Art of Cinema and Digital Art.

For Narrative Art (305 stills displayed in the section):

“Much of the artwork displayed in this section is part of the Lucas seed collection, which spans a century and a half. Artwork not included in the Lucas Collection is featured to illustrate the history of Narrative Art.”

For Art of Cinema (251 stills):

“Much of the artwork displayed in this section is part of the Lucas seed collection, which spans a century and a half. Artwork not included in the Lucas Collection is featured to illustrate the narrative quality of the Cinematic Arts; it represents work that will be exhibited at the Lucas Museum.”

For Digital Art (14 stills):

“Not all of the artwork in this section is part of the Lucas seed collection. Artwork not in the Lucas Collection is featured to illustrate the digital medium’s role in the creation of Narrative Art and represents work that will be exhibited at the Lucas Museum.”

So all we know about this museum’s collection is that it doesn’t have all of the 570 pieces of art displayed on the site.

The Art Institute of Chicago’s collection has more than 300,000 pieces in it. Even Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art has more than 1,100 pieces in its permanent collection and that’s located in a tiny storefront southeast of a bar shaped like a train car on Milwaukee.

The Lucas plans call for a seven-story, 400,000-square-foot building on public land south of Soldier Field for something that, if it has 570 pieces, isn’t letting anyone know it does.

The Land

Lucas’ collection of something under 570 is just a “seed,” implying they’ll get more. So that means this deal forks over 17 acres of prime lakefront real estate at a rate of $10 per 99 years for a gigantic TBD.

As I’ve written about before, all land along Chicago’s lakefront is legally, historically and culturally public land. This is the people’s land.

This is our land and we’re turning 17 irreclaimable acres of it over for an ill-defined museum just because it’s in the name of a man who has a 3/4 success rate on Indiana Jones movies and is shooting for 50 percent at best on Star Wars.

It is parking space now. Actually, part of the current holdup is that the Bears want to ensure tailgating can still proceed apace. So I am aware I’m not pulling Lorax rules and speaking for the trees.

But I don’t think “It’s developed today” is a very good plea for “It should be much more developed tomorrow.”

I don’t think a past mistake justifies future ones, and I don’t think a surface parking lot justifies a seven-story castle of a museum we don’t know contains 570 items.

The Options

I am, surprisingly considering their rightie bent on most matters, with the Chicago Tribune editorial board on this.

I’m very much in favor of plans like Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Burnham Sanctuary, which would “turn a million square feet of black steel and concrete back to natural systems, back to Burnham Park, back to the people.”

To put it another way, a firm that does architecture — the John Hancock Center, Sears Tower, One World Trade Center and the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai — described this little lot of the world as “where architecture has never been the right thing to do.”

It’s not choosing between what is and what Jar-Jar and Rahm-Rahm promise. It’s choosing between what is and what could be.

It’s choosing not between a parking lot and a private temple to a billionaire’s dreams, but between a parking lot and maybe a bit of grass where we can lay and dream our own dreams under a summer sun.

Keep Off the Grass

That bit of grass is my real reason for wanting the Lucas Museum to take hold inland, maybe in a Blair Kamin reader’s suggestion of the current State of Illinois building Rauner wants to hock.

There’s something sacred and noble about a bit of green. There’s something real and pure. There’s something kindly and nice knowing the most valuable amenity of the city is kept for its people, heaven on earth and horto in urbs kept for anyone who wants to pull up a blanket and a nap under the sun.

There are no fees for public land. No ticket stubs or half-priced admissions on summer Tuesdays. Just Chicagoans getting a cost-free chance to enjoy Chicago.

It’s not there now, just parking lots for the Bears. But it could be.

Our land could be ours again if we try.

Support 1,001 Chicago Afternoons on Patreon

Staring into space in powers of 10 just north of that land

What's this?

You are currently reading #548: Weak Force: Why the Lucas Museum Should Fail by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

  • Get Stories by Email

  • Chicago Corruption Walking Tour

    Join the email list for tour dates and info.