Daily Archives: October 14, 2009

The Public Art Centre

Public Art Centre in Bromwich UK

Public Art Centre in Bromwich UK

The Public Art Centre in West Bromwich UK recently opened, and is already demounting many of its exhibits which have failed to perform. The Art Newspaper has been tracking this project June 08 and Feb 09. Their recent piece on the opening is only in print and not yet online.

I have not been there but from what I can tell The Public is a peculiar hybrid of museum types with the aim of being all inclusive, community-oriented, friendly and accessible in posture and yet holding it self up as a premier international art museum housed in an iconic architecture. They have no collection of their own. Instead it is filled with loaned exhibitions, and site-specific installations. For the opening at least there seems to be an emphasis on digital and interactive art. As they state in their own words “The Public has something for everyone, putting amateur work beside professional, young next to old and setting local projects right alongside digital exhibits and contemporary sculpture by top international artists.”

Apparently the building was design by Wil Alsop but design was at some point taken over by another firm. It shows. This procees seems as indecisive as the museum’s program. I suspect this is the echo of the Bilbao Effect, discussed on a previous post, but it took too long to realize this one (it began in 1993, opened in 2009) that the mission and architecture had to be hastily revised to address the changed climate since the crash of Sept 2008. By the time it opened the world has changed and the original vision looks quite outdated. Its kind of like a guest arriving late to a party dressed to the nines and full of enthusiasm only to discover that everyone who is still there is busy cleaning up the mess. It does question whether iconic museum architecture can be sustained, or even if it should be. Is it a good idea to have something for everyone? Can you really make a successful museum out of nothing? Does anyone know more about this strange and elusive project?



MOS Afterparty at PS1

MOS Afterparty at PS1

I went to PS1 last weekend to explore the MOS Afterparty architecture exhibit that won the MoMA/PS1 Young Architects Program this year.  With a budget of $70,000, the contestants were to incorporate shade, water and seating as components in their projects.  The mammoth design, resembling a relative of a known “woolly” animal is on display in the front courtyard/exhibition space.  It consists of multiple teepee-esqe, hut-like structures of different sizes with the tops leveled off, allowing the sun to penetrate the display, while keeping the covered areas shaded. A metal framework, covered by a mesh overlay and a layer of what seems to be hair, connects the different conical elements to create one structure.  The skin of the shelter, which I referred to as hair, is actually a dark, thatched textile said to create its own microclimate and protect from the hot summer sun.  A series of “cooling chimneys” incorporated into the structure, as well as the exisitng concrete walls of the gallery further employ shade and cooling. As I approached the exhibit, I was shocked at first by the hair.  As I meandered through, however, I embraced the experience as a grand space which enables the viewer through the  focus on the cast shadows through the each opening above.  Furthermore, the climate control, which was a large part of the program requirements is very apparent. The space was used  for a music series this summer and what an interesting venue that would have been. I am sorry to have missed it.  The exhibit will be open until October 26.

As I think further about what this exhibition means for the future, “art as space” comes to mind. The tent-like structure itself, ironically, is reminiscent of a somewhat primitive lifestyle, but being able to walk through an exhibit of this size, interact with it and observe it as a habitat, speaks toward the future.  This “urban shelter” as the designers refer to their project, is an interactive environment on display.


Museums and Collections

The base of most museums is the collection, wither gathered for a purpose or collected over time, the collections and objects that they comprise of are a key element to the museum. Svetlana Alpers continues these ideas in The Museum as a Way of Seeing, when she claims that collections and objects are judged for visual interest. (p. 26) In the fast-driven technological world, it seems as if we forget the objects and narrative of the museum for the flashy-new entertainment technology. The balancing of technology and exhibits can be a difficult one, over use of technology can date an exhibition as well as prevent the narrative from being told properly. In a lecture by Kazy Varnelis about Network Culture: A Changing Context for Design, during the Q&A session he stated that objects have to tell a story. In addition, he stressed that things have power over us. When combining these elements we must remember that though technology is a constant in our lives today, it is not always the solution. In the future, we must find a balance between these different display methods so that the narrative can be expressly told.


Victorian Models in the Modern Museums

Nature’s Museums Victorian Science and the Architecture of Display, by Carla Yanni, states that “One of the most disturbing aspects of classification in Victorian museums is that the natural history museums…all contained objects made by non-western people.” (p. 15) Yet, when looking towards the natural history museums in the world today, the same occurrence happens. Many of these collections were founded during the Victorian era and still have strong linked back to that identity. The question to consider, is how do “contemporary” natural history museums understand their collections of non-western people? Even further, how will natural history museums in the future address these issues to the wider and more diverse audiences that attend museums? As we move towards the future in museums, an important component to consider how are we displaying the objects inside and what do those display choices reflect about our own society. Historian Mario Baglioli expressed that “representation of racial differences and gender roles embedded in many natural history exhibits, are some science museums’ attempt to shape national identities through the celebration of a nation’s scientific and technological “monuments” and heroes.” (p. 15) These non-western objects and collections are a key part to many museums and should not for-sake them. The question for the future is how will we deal with these Victorian models in a modern environment?