What does it mean when an art museum plans to expand into a sweeping green park space—with no art? That is precisely what the North Carolina Museum of Art is doing, according to a recent New York Times article. The large outdoor extension is emphatically not a sculpture garden, says the museum director, Lawrence J. Wheeler, but rather "a unifying idea of what people perceive as a museum and what they perceive as a park." This is one more step in the direction of museums as sites of experience above all else. It raises the question: If parts of the world such as parks can become parts of museums, what has a museum become? If a museum's ultimate role is to serve the community, then a park space is ideal; but what then differentiates a museum from a park, a library, a parking lot—or anything else of value to the community?
Last week the six powerful arches of the Kimbell Art Museum (Forth Worth, TX) entered my life as if a Piero della Francesca background had infiltrated my TV screen. Although they make only a brief cameo in the documentary film My Architect, which centers on the architect Louis Kahn (you can see clips of it here), their design is elegant, unusual, and—especially in light of these two qualities—astonishingly simple. From the outside, their length and clean lines seem to exaggerate their recession into space, as if perspective holds unusally strong sway over this building. From the inside, meanwhile (shown in the Kimbell's photo gallery), the barrel vaults are cunningly transformed into pointed arches by unbroken banks of lights, curving outward like a pair of mile-long petals opening down the length of each vault. The slabs of cement walls stand just out of line with the bottoms of the vaults as if independent structures. All in all, the architecture manages to harness the strength of brutalism and the grace of classicism simultaneously. The space it creates for the art is remarkable: understated, unprepossessing, a perfect backdrop—and yet utterly captivating you once you start looking at it.
The German Archaeological Institute recently announced a new museum opening in Wukro (Wuqro), Ethiopia. This museum houses archaeological finds from the area, with one highlight being the 8th- to 6th-century BC sanctuary of a moon god. The altar and channel for libations is reconstructed in the museum (above). Just as striking as this reconstruction is the architecture of the museum building itself: it dosn't just recede into the background, but acts as part of the display. Its massive stone walls accentuate the objects more powerfully than the usual flat painted wall surface; they are a beautiful extension of the display.
To find out more: this document (in German) explains the museum project, including diagrams of the building, and this website presents nice pictures of the galleries, signage, and festive opening ceremony.
Ideas on Display
A humble space to reflect on concepts of museum display as enacted across a wide range of subjects, countries, and approaches.