Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Marking a Decade in Grand Style

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Marking a Decade in Grand Style

Article excerpt


It's hard to get excited about tin, the traditional tenth anniversary gift. The Museum of Latin American Art (MoLAA) in Long Beach, California, decided to celebrate its first ten years in a much grander manner: by hiring Mexican architect Manuel Rosen to create a new building.

After reviewing the work of a number of architects, Rosen emerged as the ideal choice, museum founder and chairman Robert Gumbiner said. Rosen had already established an international reputation for creating exciting exhibition spaces with his designs for the Cultural Center in Tijuana, Mexico, and the Monument to Fray Anton de Montesinos in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. "We never tried to build an ostentatious museum. We don't have a lot of stone or glass, but what we do have is a great design," Gumbiner observes.

For the new museum, located in the city's nascent East Village Arts District, Rosen created a pair of dramatic, interconnected rectangular arches, which provide a kind of frame for the building. They also serve as a metaphorical statement of the museum's purpose. "The arches represent bridges between North and South America. In this way, the building is in harmony with our mission," says Gregorio Luke, until recently MoLAA's director.

"Beyond the arches, small square openings envelop the museum's exterior walls, creating a necklace of light as the sun follows its dally path across the sky," Rosen adds. "Floating beneath the arches, an expansive reflection pool celebrates MoLAA's proximity to the Pacific Ocean."

The building's color scheme is as dramatic as its structure. The tower rising from the reflecting pool, designed by Rosen to counterbalance the design's angularity, provides a splash of bright blue, which is echoed in a quartet of rectangles that float horizontally across the building's facade. The wall that anchors one edge of the arch spanning the reflecting pool offers a contrasting field of deep burgundy--the same red Rosen used to spell out the museum's name across the building's entrance.

A wide range of opening festivities--hosted by television personality and art collector Cristina Saralegui, who provided her own overview of the museum's permanent collection--inaugurated the building's new and expanded spaces last June. Among the additions enabled by Rosen's design were another gallery, a classroom/studio which can accommodate three times the number of students as the museum's prior educational space, and an intimate, 30-seat film screening theater.

The new building's exterior shelters another recent addition to MoLAA, the Robert Gumbiner Sculpture Garden, designed by landscape architect Christopher Brown. The 15,000-square-foot garden is planted with a variety of cacti, succulents, and palms native to the Americas, which also share the advantage of requiring little water--a real benefit in the museum's arid climate. The dozens of works on view in the garden span a wide range of styles and artists. Among the sculptural highlights are the bronze Sol Negro, by Fernando de Szyszlo of Peru; Argentine artist Perez Celis's ten-foot tall, aluminum Angel de las Americas, whose bright red and blue echoes the museum's facade; and Equilibrista en split, Mexican sculptor Jorge Marin's bronze of a masked acrobat performing a split.

Taking advantage of the temperate climate of Southern California, MoLAA's sculpture garden includes an outdoor performance space with a 700-person seating capacity, which the museum is using to extend its varied programming. …

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