What’s the story, museums glory?

In this post I’d like to continue to talk about the issue of my previous post, i.e. the problem that museums must face to stay true to themselves and, at the same time, to understand the future trends of a globalized cultural environment and, if possible, to be even the catalyst of these new trends.

What about this sentence: “Whether it’s the product of artisans working in age-old traditions, or great geniuses breaking new ground, I think you get a broader perspective here, that is ever more important in the modern world.”

This comes from the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, Mr. Thomas P. Campell talking about his museum and what is the role of the collection in the modern era. Or better… the contemporary era!

In fact, according to the article I read, Campbell believes the Met should strengthen the relationships with contemporary art, because today this connection is not well perceived by the public.

“This engagement with contemporary art is part of what he describes as a “fundamental shift” in the presentation of the Met’s displays, helping to make them more accessible. “We assume a great deal of knowledge in our audience; I’m conscious that we need to do more for our general visitors. What I’m trying to do is to get the museum rethinking the visitor experience from the moment that people arrive at the museum: the signage they encounter, the bits of paper they pick up, all the way through to the way we deliver information in the galleries. And obviously that’s an enormous task. We’ve got a million square feet of gallery space and tens of thousands of objects on display, so nothing’s going to change overnight”.

So, here we’re talking about how to manage the collection directly on-site, updating the perception a visitor will have when he or she will enter the museum.

And here a very important sentence by Campbell, that could be referred to the issue emerged on my previous post: “The new art history that has shifted from the focus on connoisseurship and the priestly blessings of the top scholars to greater socio-political contextualisation; and the trend, coming out of Britain, for museums not just to speak to an elite upper-middle class. I think the London museums have really led the way in that”.

So, maybe the journalist who wrote the article I previously written about should at least listen this different perception of the “London Vague” by Mr Campbell, a perception with which I mostly agree.

I think that british museums are leading a trend that tries to bring museums to the 21st century and to the 22nd one too!

And that they could represent the real alternative to the American crisis of public and private museums, combining the need of a more complex and elaborated management strategy and the original public nature of European museums.

And last but not least, here’s an important question and an even more important answer.

Is the Met interested in becoming a world brand? “The Met was founded to be an international museum here in New York. I’m not interested in putting down bricks and mortar in Abu Dhabi. That said, we are a very out-facing institution.” That is, no thanks not that way, but maybe another way or with a less drastic formula…

See you soon then!

New Whitney vs Old Whitney?

Just some updates about the Downtown Whitney Museum project…

As I already written in my previous post, the Whitney Museum is going to start the building of its new site in the Meatpacking District in New York. The only problem now is how to cut the un-necessary costs and to save all the money it is possible to save in order to be able to sustain the making of the project, for example by taking into consideration the use of different materials for the building itself… In fact, we should not forget that even if the museum bought the land from the city council at half the market price, it still needs to raise an additional $215 million to reach its goal of $590 million, most of which would go to the endowment…

As I read in a New York Times article recently, the architect of the project, Mr Renzo Piano, was asked to reconsider some aspects of the design: “As the Whitney struggles to contain costs — and get construction underway before prices creep back up — its architect, Renzo Piano, keeps revising his design in response, trimming here, pushing back there. Critics don’t normally weigh in at this stage of a design or dwell on the many tricky decisions involved in maintaining the design’s integrity in the face of financial pressures. But in this case those pressures are unusually intense, and the way they are resolved will determine the answer to a question on the minds of everyone who cares about the museum: Will the final result be an experience as good as — or better than — Marcel Breuer’s Whitney?”

But all the construction issues are exacerbated by the ticking clock and the fear of having to live down another flop, considering that the project of the new museum had so many stops and restarts…

And, at the end, the real problem is another one: is it really worth it? As even the journalist suggests few institutions’ identities are as closely linked to their buildings as the Whitney’s is to the Breuer.

So, maybe the board should consider this aspect before rushing to such a challenging project, because “for Mr. Piano’s design to really succeed, it will need to rise at least to the same level as the original building as a place to view art. Anything less will not only be a shame for the city, but a defining emblem of failure for the Whitney”.

This is the end of starchitectural museums, my friend…

In some of my previous posts I called some architects “archistars”. I admit I never heard the definition “starchitecture” but I don’t think it changes the sense of what the two words tries to define.

And so I think it is quite interesting to find an article speaking about some issues I already tried to bring to your attention, that is the worrying diffusion, among public and private museums, of management strategies trying to repeat the “Bilbao effect”.

Another thing I didn’t know (I know I don’t know, would say Socrates, so I’m in good company…) is that it does exist an off-broadway satire talking about these kind of archistars… This means that it’s a real phenomenon!

Anyway, there’s an interesting sentence in the article: “The trend that the play meant to skewer—dubbed “the Bilbao Effect” after the huge success of Frank Gehry’s 1997 Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain—is just about over. The phenomenon of using iconic architecture to promote a city, an institution, or a real-estate development was a product of the economic boom that began in the late 1990s and ended with the recession in 2008”.

So, I wasn’t just completely wrong when I wrote about the recent tendency to replicate the Bilbao Effect, and just as I wrote the article reports the beginning of the end of this tendency!

For younger architects, in fact, these pharaonic building are like the ruins of an ancient past… or, as says Rosalie Genevro, director of the Architectural League in New York, “the spectacle building is kind of a dinosaur”.

And just because some museums’ collections are partly constituted by real dinosaurs it doesn’t mean that they should keep on funding these kinds of architectural proposals!

And so… Cut it off!

Already planned projects reduced their ambitions:

“New York’s Whitney Museum wanted Renzo Piano (there a pic next here) to slenderize his design for a downtown expansion to save costs, and the Tate Modern in London asked Herzog & de Meuron (take a look at the pic here: quite impressive, ah???) to simplify the scheme for its new addition by excising complex glass protrusions. Other new projects are already reflecting a slimmed-down sensibility. Jerusalem’s Israel Museum, scheduled to reopen in July, has been renovated and expanded to enhance the experience for visitors, not overload their senses”. (Doesn’t it sound familiar??? Take a look to my previous posts!)

New plans changed completely their approach:

“The Cincinnati Art Museum, for example—in a city that already has one knockout iconic arts center by Zaha Hadid—recently put on hold its plans for an addition by the hip Rotterdam office Neutelings Riedijk. The Berkeley Art Museum in California canceled a stunning design for a new building by Japanese architect Toyo Ito after failing to raise enough money. Instead the museum will retrofit an old printing plant for new gallery space”.

But these stream hasn’t completely gone away…

“Many of Asia’s economies are still booming, and China in particular hungers for spectacle architecture… In Abu Dhabi and Qatar, major cultural projects, with exuberant designs by Gehry, Hadid, and Jean Nouvel (it’s the last photo), remain on track, at least for now. And on the West Coast, two contemporary-art museums—one devoted to the collection of Eli Broad in Los Angeles, the other an extension of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, to house the collection of Gap founders Doris and Donald Fisher—have invited some of the usual suspects to compete for their designs. Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Adjaye Associates, Snøhetta, and Foster + Partners are up for the SFMOMA job, and Diller Scofidio + Renfro leads a list of six firms for the L.A. museum. But the winning architects are likely to propose schemes that are sensitive to their urban habitat and deferential to the art”.

These are some things we already talked about, didn’t we? 😉