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Monday, December 30, 2019

Beautiul Art Museums

Niterói Contemporary Art Museum, Niterói, Brazil
A few years ago I was fortunate enough to visit the Guggenheim Museum of Art on New York City's Fifth Avenue. Aside from their display of a working solid gold toilet, the brainchild of contemporary artist Maurizio Cattela, I found the museum's art offerings decidedly underwhelming. However, I was not disappointed. I had taken time from my week of New York City museum hopping not to admire the Guggenheim's art but to take in Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural landmark with its upward swirls, sensuous curves, acute angles, and cavernous rotunda. I came face to face with a museum in which the architecture boldly competed with the art it displayed, and in fact, overwhelmingly won the competition. Ever since the museum first opened its doors on October 21, 1959, Wright's design and the museum itself have been controversial for that very reason. Moreover Wright's design broke the mold as to traditional museums of all kinds. Some critics, myself included, have often bemoaned this trend, but with few exceptions every art museum built since 1959 has shared the same trait. That having been said, perhaps it's time we stopped thinking of art museums as mere housing for the world's greatest art but instead accepted them as art masterpieces in their own right. The Guggenheim is as much an art masterpiece as the Mona Lisa or the ancient Venus de Milo.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, 1959, Frank Lloyd Wright.
Overlooking Guanabara Bay, the Niterói Contemporary Art Museum (top) looks like something out of a science fiction film when viewed from afar. Designed by Oscar Niemeyer – a well-known Brazilian architect key to the development of modern architecture, the museum is notable not just for its contemporary art collection. There's also a gallery which shows off a fantastic view including the bay, and Rio de Janeiro and Sugarloaf Mountain across the water. Though seen as a second generation in museum design (completed in 1996), it's not difficult to discern the influence of Wright's Manhattan masterpiece (above). Its most notable feature remains the cylindrical gallery with a ramp inside that extends from ground level up to the ceiling skylight in a long, continuous spiral. The Guggenheim's collection features Impressionist, early modern and contemporary art, including paintings by Paul Cézanne and Vasily Kandinsky. The museum's cubist office annex (lower image) was nearly as controversial as the museum itself. Critics lamented the departure from Wright's upward swirls in favor of the cubist addition. However, in comparing the two photos above, the annex does not compete with Wright's design but in fact augments it, serving as a unimposing backdrop hiding the hideous New York high-rises apartments just to its north. One can only wish that a similar structure could isolate the museum from the east
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain, 1997, Frank Gehry
Having not seen the Guggenheim's other major art temple in Bilbao, Spain, it's hard to imaging an even more radical museum design. Like the Niterói Contemporary Art Museum, the Guggenheim Bilbao (above) is a second generation offspring of Wright's radical departure. It was designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry and inaugurated in 1997. Since then, the museum has housed more than a hundred exhibitions, including an epic 300-piece overview of 20th-century art. As with the New York Guggenheim, the museum further changed the way both architects and people think about museums. The impact of the new museum on the city was so great that it's now known as the Bilbao effect--when a single cultural project can revive a destination.
Foundation Louis Vuitton, Paris, France, 2006, Frank Gehry
Another architectural influence upon Frank Gehry is Frank Gehry himself as seen in the Louis Vuitton Foundation Museum and Cultural Center in Paris, France. The museum is dedicated to the legendary French fashion designer and created to support the contemporary arts. Frank Gehry, took inspiration not just from his own Bilbao creation but from the clouds when designing the building. The structure also pays homage to other huge glass buildings in Paris, most notably the Grand Palais, and houses 11 different galleries across two floors. Every year the Foundation organizes major exhibitions, bringing together significant works of modern and contemporary art from around the world. Visitors can also discover works from emerging artists, featured in the Open Space program, as well as the Collection of the Foundation that reveals itself through display series.
Museo Soumaya, Mexico City, 2011, Fernando Romero
Located on Mexico City's Nuevo Polanco, architect Fernando Romero's Museo Soumaya (above), suggests what Wright's Guggenheim might look like if turned inside out. Consisting of two buildings--Plaza Carso and Plaza Loreto--Museo Somaya is a private museum housing an impressive collection of more than 66,000 works from 30 centuries of art including sculptures from Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica, 19th- and 20th-century Mexican art and an extensive repertoire of works by European old masters and masters of modern western art such as Auguste Rodin, Salvador Dalí, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo and Tintoretto. It is called one of the most complete collections of its kind. Recognizable by its unusual curved lines, the exterior of the building is covered in 16,000 hexagonal aluminum tiles while the interior opens into a large white gallery. Mexico's former president Felipe Calderón praised it for offering Mexicans a chance to view great art at home.
Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Santiago Calatrava
Somewhere, in some architectural handbook, it seems to be written that all 21st-century art museum must look like alien spacecraft about to soar into the clear blue sky. Far from Wright's curvilinear tradition, the Milwaukee Art Museum, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava has created a museum containing a movable, wing-like brise soleil (an architectural feature that reduces heat gain by deflecting sunlight), opening up to a total wingspan of 217 feet (66m) during the day and folds over the arched structure at night. The Milwaukee Art Museum is actually comprised of three separate buildings but its Quadracci Pavilion that's the most noteworthy. Although it holds one of the largest collections of works by Wisconsin native Georgia O'Keeffe, like all the rest, the building itself receives just as much attention.
Musée du Louvre, Paris, France, 1989, I.M. Pei
Not to be outdone by the rival Guggenheims, Paris' Louvre has made a few waves in museum design circles starting with its new glass pyramid entrance designed by the Chinese-American architect I.M.Pei is surrounded by three smaller pyramids, in the main courtyard (Cour Napoléon) of the Louvre Palace. The large pyramid serves as the main entrance to the Louvre Museum. Completed in 1989,it has become a landmark of the city of Paris. The pyramid and the underground lobby beneath it were created because of a series of problems with the Louvre's original main entrance, which could no longer handle the enormous number of visitors on an everyday basis. Visitors entering through the pyramid descend into the spacious lobby then ascend into the main Louvre buildings.

Louvre Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi, UAE, 2017, Jean Nouvel
About as far removed from Pei's glass pyramid and virtually every other recent art museum is the Louvre's Abu Dhabi museum located in the United Arab Emirates. With its simple lines, vast reflective pool and graceful dome, the museum opened in 2017. It immediately exceeded one million visitors in its first year. The 35,000-strong collection includes artworks from around the world, with a particular focus on bridging the gap between Eastern and Western art. The museum building's most notable feature is its web-patterned dome that appears to be floating. It's located in Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Island's Cultural District. Designed by architect Jean Nouvel, the Louvre Abu Dhabi aims to complement the other Emirati museums in an effort to transform the art and cultural scene in the Middle East.

Victoria & Albert Museum, Dundee, UK, Kengo Kuma
Museum architectural masterpieces are not just the province of Western architects. In the unlikely venue of Dundee, UK, Japanese architect Kengo Kuma has taken radical museum design to, or very near, its outer limits with his Victoria & Albert Museum, an offshoot from the V & A Museum in London. The museum is located on the east coast of Scotland and is the first V&A museum outside of London. It's obvious the architect owes nothing to Wright or Gehry, or any other pioneer designer of either the 20th- or 21st-centuries. The building's exterior is inspired by the eastern cliff edges of Scotland and occupies a space on the newly redeveloped Dundee waterfront. The original completion date was 2017 but it was delayed to 2018. During construction a cofferdam was installed to allow the outer wing to expand onto the River Tay while 780 tons of pre-cast grey concrete slabs were added to the outside of the building at a cost of £80.1- million to complete. Is it beautiful? Let's just say that the old adage "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is nowhere more fitting.

Hanoi Museum, Hanoi, Vietnam, 2010, Meinhard von Gerkan, Nikolaus Goetze, Klaus Lenz
Perhaps owing some debt to I.M. Pei, there can be little doubt that Meinhard von Gerkan, Nikolaus Goetze, Klaus Lenz, though not oriental, have flawlessly incorporated Asian aesthetics into their Hanoi Museum, Hanoi, Vietnam. The pyramid is inverted and inside sloping ramps remind one of Wright's creation. The Hanoi Museum houses an impressive collection of pieces that cover the last 1,000 years of Hanoi's history, culture and architecture. The museum can be accessed by a central atrium that expands, floor by floor, into the exhibition space with the top floor purposefully built so that the visitors feel like they're floating over the landscape. The building, finished in 2010, was also designed to offer shade to the bottom floors and improve the building's energy efficiency.

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, 2002, Tadao Ando
I have saved the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, to this spot near the end because it stands nearly alone both as a quietly beautiful art museum, but one which in no way competes with the art offerings inside. Designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando and opened to the public in 2002, the museum building consists of five large pavilions set into a reflecting pond. The Modern's permanent collection currently consists of more than 3,000 pieces, including works by Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock and Cindy Sherman. The Museum currently showcases up to 150 works of art in its 53,000 square feet (4,900 m2) of gallery space. The majority of works in the collection are dated in between 1945 and present. The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth maintains one of the foremost collections of international modern and contemporary art in the central United States. Various movements, themes, and styles are represented, including abstract expressionism, color field painting, pop art, and minimalism, as well as aspects of new image painting from the 1970s and beyond, recent developments in abstraction and figurative sculpture, and contemporary movements in photography, video, and digital imagery.

Ordos Museum, Ordos, China--better known as
"the blob."


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