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Everyone thinks they know what a museum is. After all, we’ve all been to one at one time or another in our lives, whether forced into it on a school trip, or drawn to it by a love of art and history. In the past, the contents of the museum have been the attraction-but that is true no longer. In recent years, architects have elevated the role of the museum building itself to be an equal, if not (dare I say) greater attraction than the contents. In Berne, Switzerland, for example, the elevation of the entire city into an art capital of Europe resulted from the building of the dramatic Paul Klee Centre in its center.

If you don’t believe me, it’s because you haven’t seen the museum buildings to which I refer. But thanks to The Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, TN, many of us will change our thinking by visiting Museums in the 21st Century: Concepts, Projects, Building.

Organized by Art Centre Basel, the exhibition is a survey of the latest museum architecture in the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia. Eighteen unique designs are represented by models, sketches, computer renderings, photographs and animation – all of which provide fascinating insight into the creative processes of many of the world’s major architectural firms. The buildings themselves are at various stages of development. Some have been completed and are already open to the public, some are in the process of being constructed and some have not yet gotten off the ground – or my never come to fruition because of financial constraints.

First Center Associate Curator Trinita Kennedy explains,  “In this day and age, as the world becomes more complex and global, museums are no longer simply repositories of the world’s great art. As people seek connections…to the past…to ideas…to each other, museums are central to those explorations as they become places of conversation, study, discourse and celebration.”

The relationship between the institutions, and the brilliant architects who design the buildings is not always cordial it seems, which really comes as no big surprise. Kennedy explains, “Tensions can, and often do, emerge between the specialized needs of museums and the desire for architects to make an aesthetic statement,” Kennedy said.

“Museum building projects in this exhibition include those that are beautifully integrated into their surroundings and several that are set in stark (and sometimes shocking) opposition to their surroundings,” Kennedy noted. “There are buildings by ‘starcheticts,’ (such as Frank Gehry, Renzo Piano, Zaha Hadid, and Daniel Libeskind).”

Not only does this exhibition illuminate the relationship of architecture to the exhibition of art, it also explores the relationship between architecture and the environment. In the Stonehenge Visitor Centre and Interpretive Museum, architects Denton Corker Marshall drastically altered their original design to adapt to the landscape, and Tadao Ando buried his Chichu Art Museum in the earth of Naoshima, Japan, out of respect for the pristine panorama of the island on which it is located.

On the other hand, the biomorphic structure of Kunsthaus Graz in Graz, Austria, stands in sharp and deliberate contrast to neighboring historic buildings. It was conceived as a structural bridge where past and future meet and is called by locals “the friendly alien.”

If you love art and architecture like we do, don’t miss this amazing exhibit! It reminds us that architecture too is a true art, especially in the hands of great artists!

Find out more at / Issue 107 - September 2018
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