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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Art Museums of the Future

National Art Museum of China, Beijing, MAD Architects
As anyone who has read much that I've written here over the past five or six years will know, I'm something of a futurist. Even as a child I was fond of making predictions of future technological advances starting with the words, "In the future..." Much of what I predicted has yet to evolve, but I did hit correctly on self-steering cars (soon, if not quite yet), the digital revolution (though not home computers), Blockbuster Video (came and went), video cell phones (mine were worn on the wrist ala Dick Tracy), and microwave ovens. I also predicted microwave refrigerators, but let's forget about that one. In my book, Art THINK (available on the right) I predicted art museums in which art lovers would take a comfortable reclining seat and the art would come to them via overhead tracks. That one may take a while. In the meantime, a number of incredibly fantastical art museums have recently opened around the world; or are currently under construction; or are in various stages of planning. The American architectural genius Frank Lloyd Wright can "wrightly" be said to have designed the first truly futuristic art museum during the late 1950s. However, what you'll see below, makes Wright's New York City Guggenheim appear dated, at best, and perhaps even outdated. To see what I mean, take a quick look at what the Chinese have come up with (above and below).

The design work of MAD Architects, Beijing and Los Angeles.
(I'm not joking, that's really the name of the firm.)
At various times in the past I've railed against art museums which compete architecturally with the art they house. The Guggenheims (both of them) in New York and in Bilbao (Spain) are both guilty of this. And alas, virtually all the museums seen below are too(though some more than others). I guess it must be somewhere carved in stone that art museums must be, in and of themselves, be works of art. That seems to be especially the case having to do with museums of contemporary art. I may not like it but, WOW, just look at what these art museum architects are coming up with! Maybe this trend isn't so bad after all. MAD’s museum design is organized into three layers, with venues divided by each level. The one-storey ground floor houses all ancillary functions and is conceived in such a way that it can be operated independently from the museum in off hours. Above is a 20,000 square meter urban plaza which acts as the main gallery for permanent art collections and exhibitions. The arrangement of this hall gives visitors the opportunity to decide how to engage with the works on show, while simultaneously being surrounded by outward views of the surrounding cityscape courtesy of windows that wrap around the perimeter of the structure. This level is also directly connected to the former Olympic park via a bridge, thus making use of an area of the urban plan which would otherwise be ignored.

The Mu Xin Art Museum is about as different from it's
Beijing counterpart as can be imagined.
Lest you get the idea that all Chinese museums look like alien spaceships, the Mu Xin Art Museum (above) located in Zhejiang, an eastern province of China, appears to float in the middle of a lake, giving it a much more traditional Chinese flavor while paying homage to the 20th-century International style. Yet it maintains a distinctly Postmodern appearance both inside and out. Along a similar line, though seeming more daring with its massive cantilevered wings, is the Nanjing Sifang Art Museum (below) designed by the New York based firm of Steven Holl Architects. Holl and his colleagues have done with reinforced concrete what Frank Lloyd Wright only wished he could have done. Keep in mind, though these structures are sculptural in nature, they are also specialized, working, user-friendly buildings with a multitude of demands and limitations imposed upon them long before the first spade of dirt is turned.

Nanjing Museum, Steven Holl Architects, New York
It would seem that the Chinese are nothing if not daring in their design of futuristic art museums as seen in the Guangdong Museum by Rocco Design Architects (below), a Hong Kong based firm. The building is daring, even beautiful in it's own way, but in peering inside, the question arises, where's the art?

Rocco Design Architects have eschewed sweeping curves in favor of
razor-sharp hard edges, bridges, glass, and soaring open spaces.
Nowhere else on earth is there a city which appears to have been transported out of the future in some unknown manner other than Dubai, of the United Arab Emirates. Located on the Arabian peninsula, this city is home to the world's tallest building, also the tallest hotel in the world, and perhaps the most radical looking, futuristic art museum in the world. It's called the Museum of Middle Eastern Modern Art (below). It was designed by the local architectural firm of UNStudio, Dubai, UAE. Based on the form of a dhow, the museum holds a variety of spaces to exhibit Cultural exhibits, art galleries, leasable workshop spaces, an auditorium, and an amphitheater for live performances and international festivals. In addition, the museum includes a boutique hotel housing sixty guests along with a boutique retail promenade on the active Culture Village waterfront. It also features a high-end signature restaurant on the top level, with a 360 degree view of the city.

Depending upon the angle, the museum has a somewhat frightening appearance.
In Milan, Italy, long famous for its stylish designs and designers, the Italians have come up with their own Museum of Contemporary Art (below) every bit as curvilinear in its own way as anything the Arabs or Chinese have erected. It's a museum totally beyond my meager architectural vocabulary to describe. Featuring a rooftop park and balconies sporting plant life, it's one of the "greener" museums to be found today.

ART! YES! I see some ART! The museum may compete
with its art, but at least it doesn't hide it in the attic.
The United States boasts at least two quite futuristic museums, the Southern Utah Museum of Art and Design (below) and the extremely green, Holocaust Museum located in Los Angeles, California (bottom). The Southern Utah Museum of Art, can be found on the campus of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. It is nearing completion now and will open this summer (2016). This state-of-the-art museum will be home to approximately 5,300 square feet of exhibition space composed of several individual galleries hosting exhibitions from around the world.

Why are nearly all art museums white?
First of all, our final museum is not about art; and unlike the others, it's free. The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) is FREE. How many museums of this caliber do you know of that are free? The museum is broken up into galleries featuring artifacts from before the war, during the war, and after the war. If you actually take the time to listen to every recording, you'd never make it through them all in a day. Even though this is a small museum, it is overflowing with stories to tell. The architecture and layout plays a significant role in visitors’ experiences. The nine rooms descend and decrease in light as visitors progress towards the darkest part of history. Technology is used as a tool, enhancing the experience, which takes several forms throughout the museum including interactive video and audio exhibits. The building was designed by the acclaimed architect Hagy Belzberg. It has one of the largest intensive green roofs in California.

The award-winning building appears to be as much a park as a museum.
Oscar Niemeyer was the famous Brazilian architect, 
specializing in international modern architecture. He was
 a pioneer in exploring the formal possibilities of reinforced
concrete solely for their aesthetic impact. The buildings
he designed were marked by a broad,  open, mixing of
volumes and empty space to create unconventional
patterns. This is one of his most famous designs,
the Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum.
The building dates from 2000.


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