Design Observer

About
Books
Job Board
Newsletters
Archive
Contact



Observatory

About
Resources
Submissions
Contact


Featured Writers

Michael Bierut
William Drenttel
John Foster
Jessica Helfand
Alexandra Lange
Mark Lamster
Paul Polak
Rick Poynor
John Thackara
Rob Walker


Departments

Advertisement
Audio
Books
Collections
Dear Bonnie
Dialogues
Essays
Events
Foster Column
From Our Archive
Gallery
Interviews
Miscellaneous
New Ideas
Opinions
Partner News
Photos
Poetry
Primary Sources
Projects
Report
Reviews
Slideshows
The Academy
Today Column
Unusual Suspects
Video


Topics

Advertising
Architecture
Art
Books
Branding
Business
Cities / Places
Community
Craft
Culture
Design History
Design Practice
Development
Disaster Relief
Ecology
Economy
Education
Energy
Environment
Fashion
Film / Video
Food/Agriculture
Geography
Global / Local
Graphic Design
Health / Safety
History
Housing
Ideas
Illustration
India
Industry
Info Design
Infrastructure
Interaction Design
Internet / Blogs
Journalism
Landscape
Literature
Magazines
Media
Museums
Music
Nature
Obituary
Other
Peace
Philanthropy
Photography
Planning
Poetry
Politics / Policy
Popular Culture
Poverty
Preservation
Product Design
Public / Private
Public Art
Religion
Reputations
Science
Shelter
Social Enterprise
Sports
Sustainability
Technology
Theory/Criticism
Transportation
TV / Radio
Typography
Urbanism
Water


Comments Posted 04.19.10 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Mark Lamster

Staggered Profiles




Back when I was in high school, some 25 years ago (ouch), the Whitney was already mired in controversy over its expansion plans. Michael Graves was the culprit then. Rem Koolhaas would come along in later years, and Renzo Piano after him. Marcel Breuer's gray granite fort somehow resisted all comers, a fact for which we should all be very glad.

The Whitney has never given up its dreams, however, and now has its eyes on a plot at the foot of the High Line in the Meat Market, with Piano as designer. I hate to think of the Whitney decamping from the Upper East Side, though I can appreciate the museum's desire for more gallery space. A satelite downtown sounds appealing, but like many of the trustees, I fear the costs of operating it might be prohibitive.

The Guggenheim's downtown outpost didn't work out. When big plans go awry, it's always the little guys at a museum — the registrars and librarians and designers and guards — who get stuck with the brunt of the pain. The news about the Whitney's expansion drew a rather splenetic response from Times art critic Roberta Smith, no fan of Breuer's building. It has, she wrote, "all the disadvantages of starchitecture and few if any of the rewards. Even in a country where museums are rarely designed with art in mind, it stands out as relentlessly unforgiving to works of all styles and periods. If the stone floor doesn’t kill, the oppressive overhead concrete structure almost undoubtedly will.
Unlike the Guggenheim, the Breuer building is not considered a must-see destination by tourists, regardless of what shows are on view." I'd just like to add my voice to those who find that opinion — and the nasty tone in which it is voiced — objectionable. Yes, the building has a brooding profile, but I've never found it resistant to art. The Whitney has a personality, and it actually belies first impression. You cross over that moat, and it's like you're in a place out of time. It's not oppressive. It's the one New York museum that has a sense of humor, that doesn't have airs. MoMA is Imperial. The Goog is chic. The Frick and the Morgan are old money. The MET is an encyclopedia. The Whitney? It's Calder's circus, Stuart Davis, Oldenburg's soft toilet, all those biennials that everyone hates — it's the 1962 Mets of New York art museums. (Those '62 Mets, incidentally: owned by a Whitney.) It even has its own scent. The Whitney smells like no other place in the world.

Perhaps I'm jaded by my own history, but I happen to think Breuer's stone flagging and concrete ceilings do just fine for art, thank you very much. Idiosyncratic? Sure, but that's okay. I hate to think that the only way to look at modern art is in giant white-walled warehouses. As for popularity, the place seems to be doing pretty well tourist-wise: that's part of the reason it wants to expand. (And apparently the folks in Vegas think it's pretty iconic.) Smith doesn't like Sanaa's New Museum any better; its galleries are "horribly proportioned and oppressive in their lack of windows." Well, I agree that the galleries are a bit claustrophobic, as I wrote in a recent piece on Design Observer, but, again, let's not get crazy. I like our two museums. Quirky ain't a bad thing. It's us.
|
Share This Story

Comments

Design Observer encourages comments to be short and to the point; as a general rule, they should not run longer than the original post. Comments should show a courteous regard for the presence of other voices in the discussion. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that do not adhere to this standard.
Read Complete Comments Policy >>


Name             

Email address 




Please type the text shown in the graphic.


|
Share This Story



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Lamster is the architecture critic of the Dallas Morning News and a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington School of Architecture. A contributing editor to Architectural Review, he is currently at work on his third book, a biography of the late architect Philip Johnson. Follow: @marklamster.
More Bio >>

DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









RELATED POSTS


Premature Demolition
The Folk Art Museum, David Adjaye's market hall, and the first addition to the Morgan Library. If three makes a trend, then premature demolition qualifies.

Why Tatlin Can Never Go Home Again
Raoul Hausmann’s photomontage Tatlin at Home is much pinned on Pinterest, but what has become of the original?

Criticism = Love
Why you have to love design to be a critic.

Art On Campus
A review of the renovated Blaffer Art Museum and James Turrell's latest skyspace, "Twilight Epiphany."

L.A. Loves Deborah Sussman
A Kickstarter for an upcming exhibition on the wotk of Deborah Sussman in Los Angeles.