My column deriding George Lucas’ hopes to house his personal collection of Americana in Chicago was probably ungenerous. Maybe it was because I was mistaken for Lucas in shopping center not long ago, and the slur still rankles.
No collection should not be judged by its owner, and I fear I did just that. He owns superb examples of the various subgenres that interest him, works that pose interesting questions about the lines that are usually drawn between commercial or popular art and what are usually ranked the finer arts.
did not explore some of the background to the story. Lucas grew up in California’s Central Valley, where San Francisco beckons like Oz, and it was in that fabled city that Lucas really wanted to build his museum. Lucas proposed to house it in a $700 million faux-Spanish villa on the bayfront.
It would have been a spectacular site for a museum – spectacularly wrong, in the opinion of the people in San Francisco who decide such things. No word yet on where Chicago might put the thing, although the Art Institute has a perfectly nice Modern Wing [ed. that’s the official name] that isn’t being used for much.
Turn the map around, and Lucas finds himself in the same place that Avery Brundage found himself 55 years ago. Brundage was the rich builder from Chicago whose hobbies included collecting art and running the Olympics. He offered his superb collection of Asian bronzes, ceramics, scrolls and ivory to the Art Institute of Chicago, expecting gratitude; instead, the AI offered to accept only part of the collection, and an offended collector took them away to San Francisco in 1959, on the condition that the city build a new museum to house it.
That San Francisco did, with substantial public support – first a wing on an existing arts museum in Golden Gate Park, later a stand-alone museum in the former Main Library building downtown that was converted for the purpose. That San Francisco was vastly more enriched by Brundage’s private passion than Chicago would be by Lucas’ probably doesn’t need saying. But the fact remains that the crowds at what is now known as the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco are notable by their absence, while Lucas' bric-a-brac would give diversion to millions in a popular tourist town the size of Chicago.