Putting the Damn in DAM

In more Ohio news, this week saw the opening of the Akron Museum of Art expansion, designed by Vienna-based firm Coop Himmelb(l)au. (Where have those guys been, by the way?) The museum addition has opened to mixed reviews from both the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, with the most common criticism being directed towards the interior gallery spaces – an elegantly versatile, yet ultimately banal space. Since the opening of the Bilbao Guggenheim, the gallery interior has been an especially contentious issue among architects, curators, and critics. In hopes of pulling in more visitors and revitalizing a museum, architects are often encouraged to create visually striking temples to art. However, those striking formal gestures all-too-often create interior curatorial nightmares.

Image from The New York Times

Coincidentally, I was in Denver this past weekend and I had a chance to visit the new addition to the Denver Art Museum, designed by Daniel Libeskind, an architect whose museums are maligned as often as praised. The exact opposite criticisms can be and have been made of the Libeskind-helmed addition. Angles jutted in inappropriate places, oddly-shaped spaces collected dust and distracted from the art – in some cases making in impossible to display – and the poorly placed windows and low light did nothing to complement the work. There was a tension in the space that, although arguably appropriate in a space like that of the Jewish Museum Berlin, is entirely inappropriate and off-putting in the Denver Museum.

Sitting awkwardly in the middle of downtown Denver, the new DAM is an intimidating presence, clad in dull and tired-looking titanium panels with a surrounding landscape that was apparently treated as an afterthought. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I find myself agreeing with James Howard Kunstler’s statement that the building is “designed like an instrument for proctological surgery,” looking at either makes one incredibly uncomfortable.

Interior water damage

Then there was the water damage. Yes, the DENVER Art Museum didn’t make it unscathed through its first winter. Ceilings were being fixed, floors and walls repaired, and the exterior cladding replaced. Tarps and temporary walls guarded the repair areas, at times making the museum interior a veritable labyrinth.

Instead of a minotaur at the center, I was please to find an amazing piece by British Sculptor Antony Gormley. Quantum Cloud XXXIII is the rare piece that actually seemed appropriate in the fractured space. Maybe that’s because I couldn’t help but see a darkly humorous parallel between my experience in the DAM and Gormley’s figure, struggling against a space formed by jagged lines and broken segments.

Quantum Cloud XXXIII

As usual, more photos can be found on the Life Without Buildings flickr page.