George Lucas is building a $1 billion museum in L.A. to house art that critics say is garbage

Art for all?
Art for all?
Image: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni
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Star Wars creator George Lucas announced this week that his long-planned Museum of Narrative Art has found a home in Los Angeles’s Exposition Park.

The planned 275,000-square-foot building (for comparison, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is about 240,000 sq ft, the Louvre 782,910) will house Star Wars memorabilia as well as Lucas’s extensive personal art collection. Those 10,000 paintings and illustrations include popular, accessible works like Mad Magazine covers, Flash Gordon comic strips, and Norman Rockwell’s idealized American scenes.

The view from the ground.
The view from the ground.
Image: Lucas Museum of Narrative Art

But just as Lucas’s films have always had more love from audiences than critics (New York magazine derided the “story, characters, and dialogue of overwhelming banality” in the original Star Wars, while unfazed moviegoers bought $775 million in tickets worldwide), his art holdings are the stuff many critics dismiss.

Bloomberg called the collection “proudly lowbrow” and “decidedly prosaic.” The architecture critic at the Los Angeles Times worried about “an awkward marriage between Hollywood memorabilia and easy-to-swallow figurative art.” Even in a piece praising the museum’s concept, Jonathan Jones at the Guardian said it was “likely to elicit scorn from art world snobs. Tate Modern or MoMA it ain’t.”

Yet proponents say the collection’s popular appeal is part of its strength—as a tourist draw, obviously, but also as a tribute to the art of storytelling, a history that includes da Vinci’s Last Supper, Marvel comics, and (yes) the Star Wars franchise.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Charles Desmarais, the first journalist to view the collection, perceived the institution as “an alternative to the current institutional view of what is worthy of preservation and study as art,” noting that the works he saw “may just be the core of a great museum.”

While Lucas has spoken bitterly at times of critics’ cold reception to his work (he’s never won an Academy Award), he’s never been shy about his place in cultural history.

“As a popular artist, I hit the same chord with people that Rockwell hit, that Michelangelo hit, that the people who painted on caves in France hit,” he said in 2013.