August 4, 2009

The Future of Museum Architecture?

A recent piece in the NY Times described the conversion of a grain elevator into an art gallery. (“About the only thing we can’t offer, is white walls.”) With the debunking of the "Bilbao Effect" myth that hiring a star architect can transform any city, is this an indicator of a possible return to a more inventive kind of architecture that is rooted in the needs of artists and visitors (rather than the egos of community leaders)?

One of my favorite recent museums continues to be MassMOCA in North Adams, Massachusetts. Not because it is great architecture, but because it is an interesting and surprising place to experience art. Rather than creating a grand statement--"This is architecture" as the new starchitect museums do, MassMOCA encourages dialog between artists and the buildings. This dialog then extends to the visitors and invites them to join in the discussion, rather than simply stand back in awe of the art, or, in too many cases, the building.

Engaged dialog is certainly a more contemporary (and less Medieval) expression of the ways our social discourse is evolving. Facebook and all the other Web 2.0 technologies are transforming the ways people engage with each other and with the organizations and activities they enjoy. Museums are beginning to get on board in digital space ("follow us on Twitter!"). Perhaps the grain elevator project is the latest manifestation of a new, more personal, way of thinking about engaging people with art in physical space?

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