The ‘Oh…’ in Ohio and 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.


SANAA in the Glass City

Known as “The Glass City,” my home town Toledo, Ohio will soon be home to the first US building completed by Tokyo architects SANAA. Set to open in early 2006, The Glass Pavilion will house the museum’s vast collection of art glass as well as the glassmaking studios for the associated University of Toledo College of Art. The Museum has studied daylight patterns to evaluate how light will enter the all-glass structure. A shading system will be erected to prevent interior spaces from overheating and to control light levels. I haven’ t yet seen any renderings of this feature. Everything that’s shown is pretty schematic, but I don’t think that this won’t be a repeat of Holl’s Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City.

The Glass Pavilion’s primary purpose is to provide an in-depth examination of the creative process by presenting the Museum’s glass collection within the context of all the visual arts. Within the Pavilion, artists and patrons will explore the creative process of glassmaking through the interpretation of the Museum’s collection and by emphasizing the relationship between the art created there and the masterpieces in the collection. Some museums focus on the history of glass, and a few others contextualize works in this media by integrating them within the history of art. The Glass Pavilion will be unique in featuring the close physical relationship between its glass collection, related works in other media, and its glassmaking facilities.

Corrugated plastic panels stand in for glass while the interior is finished.

Across the street from the Glass Pavilion sits the University building, designed by a pre-Bilbao Frank Gehry.

The new Museum sits in a wooded grove – but fear not – only dead trees were removed during construction. The glass in the mock up seems especially reflective, so seen from the outside, I’m looking forward to the effect created by ghosted images of trees overlaying the diluted images of the art and the visitors within.

A photo of a on-site full-scale mockup showing an exterior corner and rounded interior glass wall.

SANAA’s new pavilion sits only 1 block away from Toledo’s “Old West End” – an incredibly beautiful and historic (although somewhat run-down) residential district. Although I haven’t spent much time in The Glass City, I heard that there was some trouble from the residents of this area, who didn’t want such a *gasp* modern building near their stately manor. Somehow, the controversy was overcome and it looks like the outcome is going to be tremendous. I’ll keep you posted.

In other news, tomorrow, I will be officially welcome to return to New Orleans…at my own risk. No water, no gas, no power, no food, no leaving your zip code, and an enforced curfew between 6 pm and 8 am…sounds awesome. I forsee more state hopping in my future, and I’m still not really sure when I’ll be returning…