Announced in 2012, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures was originally set to open in 2017. Financing problems, construction delays, and the pandemic pushed back the date again and again. It was finally going to open this month, then its directors followed the Oscars and pushed to April 2021. Now, the date shifts once more to September 30, 2021, following a September 25 gala.
The 2021 Oscars were supposed to be the global promo blast. “We used that timing strategically, thinking back then that we would be far out of the pandemic in April,” said Academy museum Director Bill Kramer. “Obviously, that’s not going to be. We will still have a presence on the Oscars. And we will lean into virtual programming options between April and September around museum content, to make our presence and content known.” If you build a museum during COVID, that doesn’t mean they will come.
Since taking over last year, Kramer has led a multi-pronged approach to grow museum membership (8,100 and counting) including direct mail and social media. Construction on the Renzo Piano orb attached to the refurbished 1939 Art Deco May Company on the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire slowed during the pandemic, but all exhibitions were on track for the April opening. Now Bruce from “Jaws” hangs from the ceiling, and the letters of the Academy Museum are erected around the iconic gold mosaic cylinder, but the pandemic has not slowed.
Kramer finally made what he calls a “difficult decision,” he said. “Given the fact that it is getting much worse, specifically in Los Angeles, and museums have been closed almost the entire year, and that wasn’t going to be changing any time soon, we had to take the safety of our visitors and our team into consideration. With a safer-at-home order, it doesn’t feel appropriate or prudent to move forward toward an April opening right now.”
The Academy hopes the September date is the right moment to make a splash without getting in anyone’s way. “We’re looking at the latest vaccine information and read about comments made by [director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases] Anthony Fauci,” said Kramer, “to make sure we’re moving the date far enough out of the spring, when we will not have such a problem with the pandemic. We want to open strong. It’s more challenging to throw a massive series of opening events and gala in the summer. We’re paying attention to Toronto, Venice, Rosh Hashanah, and the Hammer Gala. We want to play films and be respectful of our LA neighbors. Those dates seem to fit into the fall schedule nicely.”
Kramer is also proud to have obtained a LEED Gold certification, as well as closing the museum’s pre-opening fundraising campaign led by Ted Sarandos, the new board chair for the Academy Museum trustees. (The museum’s current price tag stands at $467 million.) “We were committed to creating a green building, which is not easy to do with an adaptive reuse project,” said Kramer. “We were taking an existing vintage building and working with that. Work on the exhibition space continues to move forward beautifully.”
Courtesy ©Academy Museum Foundation
When the Museum does open, Angelenos and visitors will get to see the three-story 30,000 square-foot core exhibition Stories of Cinema, including galleries co-created with guest curators Spike Lee and Pedro Almodovar, as well as an innovative sound chamber designed by Oscar-winning “Joker” composer Hildur Guðnadóttir. “One of our goals is to celebrate cinema,” said Kramer, “and introduce our visitors to films and films artists they know, and also may not know a lot about.”
The opening will also showcase an 11,000 square-foot temporary exhibition on Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki, which will remain in place for eight months. That will be replaced by “Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898–1971,” which is co-curated by Doris Berger, senior director, curatorial affairs at the Academy Museum, and Rhea Combs, supervisory curator of film &photography at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
In the first exhibition spaces, the Museum is ready to display a vitrine case holding the ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz,” as well as other iconic objects: the Rosebud sled from “Citizen Kane,” the extraterrestrial head from “Alien,” R2-D2 and C-3PO, the Aries 1B from “2001 A Space Odyssey,” and Florence Pugh’s May Queen dress from “Midsommar.”
Coming soon, the museum will reveal its partner for the corner restaurant and cafe, as well as initial film programming announcements. And in September, Kramer fantasizes assembling in Hollywood the likes of Lee, Almodovar, Guðnadóttir. Miyazaki, and more to toast the realization of the Academy’s 90-year-dream. Count me in.