If every epoch has its own idea of history and thus builds its own museums, ours already has one which exemplarily captures the aspirations of the 20th century: the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which Renzo Piano has just completed in Hollywood after a long and complex process. It will beyond doubt be a museum for all audiences, not only the movie geeks who will be able to scour the maze of elegant halls for Hitchcock storyboards, suits worn by Cary Grant, the tablets of The Ten Commandments, the first Alien mask, and of course the object that embodies Hollywood’s by now fading glamour: the original Oscar statuette.
Whatever they are looking for, visitors will start their tour in the part that was once the May Company Wilshire department store, an icon of Angeleno Art Déco that Piano has refurbished with exquisite care. Then, after crossing a footbridge, they will find themselves in a spectacular annex – a building for Hollywood just has to be ‘spectacular’ – that Piano calls the ‘bubble,’ a truncated sphere made of reinforced concrete and glass that harbors a 1,000-seat theater. Looking like a planetarium, it has a lookout on top that offers all-around views of the vast city of Los Angeles. Spectacular, naturally.
This film museum is not at all Renzo Piano’s finest work in the United States, but it is sure to be the most famous and frequented. Hollywood, after all, is Mecca.