Something incredible is unfolding at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax. Through the force of dollar signs, and the indomitable will of Hollywood’s glitterati, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is taking shape, glistening in the Los Angeles sun like an Oscar of immense proportions.
Indeed, the Renzo Piano–designed complex has already stirred sighs and ahs from film buffs and passers-by alike, despite the fact that it won’t be completed until next year.
Though the museum is one of the most talked-about coming cultural institutions in the state, less is publicly said of the busybody team overseeing much of its construction, particularly its director, Kerry Brougher, and Brendan Connell Jr., the museum’s newly appointed chief operating officer.
“Kerry is just an inspiring, energetic visionary,” says Connell, who began his tenure as the museum's COO on June 20. He was formerly deputy COO for New York’s Guggenheim Museum. “I left a place I was at for 18 years because Kerry had an amazing vision for the Academy Museum. There will be something of interest for all film lovers — wherever you come from, whatever your background.”
As it turns out, transforming a 300,000-square-foot space into America’s film mecca — its Kaaba — requires quite a bit of work and imagination, not to mention an impeccable eye to detail. It’s a sort of scrutiny, and creative know-how, however, that both Brougher, who’s been on the project team since 2014, and Connell have mastered in the 45-plus years they’ve worked in the contemporary art world.
“When you’re in the museum world, and serving the public interest, my mantra is to just think like the visitor,” says Connell, describing how his role entails working with the museum trustees — luminaries such as the CEO of the Walt Disney Company, Bob Iger, and Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks — in “realizing” the massive project. “I sometimes close my eyes and imagine a visitor's experience, and walk through it, to make sure everything is in place.”
It’s a technique complemented, in the finest details, by Brougher’s curatorial expertise in presenting content in innovative ways. “You start thinking of ways of presenting something different than the people who came before you,” says Brougher, touching on curating the museum’s massive collection, which will go on to produce a permanent exhibition as well as temporary shows. Before accepting the directorship, he was interim director at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.
“For me, the most important thing is that this institution is more than a museum — it should be a film hub,” Brougher says. “A place where movie lovers can come and experience movies through programs put on by great filmmakers and immersive film environments.” To be specific, film artifacts, such as David Bowie’s costume as the Goblin King in Labyrinth and “emotional” preproduction illustrations of Gone With the Wind scenes, will be complemented with “moving images” across the museum’s exhibits.
Other iconic items that will be on display include one of the animatronic heads from An American Werewolf in London and a rare model of the Aries 1B Trans-Lunar Space Shuttle used in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. “We acquired it a couple of years ago,” Brougher says of the sci-fi piece. “It’s important because it’s the only model of its kind that wasn’t destroyed by Kubrick after the movie. This one managed to survive and it’s in our collection.”
On top of presenting the objects in new ways, Brougher tells L.A. Weekly that the museum also will show old films in the ways they were originally seen, as a reference point of cinema evolution. This said, there will be showings of nitrate-filmed movies, as well as 35mm and 70mm films. “We have a great group of people on board,” Connell says of the museum’s staff and how they plan to create discussions of films’ history, present and future. “We have lots of great things planned.”
Today, as the massive project reaches its final stretch of development — it’s on track to become the “best film museum in the world” — the out-of-the-box presentation of some of Hollywood’s most iconic props is a testament to both Brougher’s and Connell’s storied histories in the world of contemporary art. “There’s a certain sense of imagination and inspiration you learn from artists,” Connell says of his approach to his new position. “You become inventive in how you do things.”
Brougher, who is excited to have Connell on the team, echoes his colleague’s quest for pushing the envelope. “The museum is like a time machine,” Brougher says. “And we’re always looking for ways of taking things to a new level.”