Gehry’s quiet intervention revamps the Philadelphia Museum


Philadelphia – You know what’s better than spending a ton on a historic building? Spending a ton and barely showing.

Frank Frank Gehry, Canadian Angelo and other museums and cultural institutions. Turned to 92 year old grandmaster Of torquing titanium, they have called both inventive and showy buildings: metal curves at Guggenheim Bilbao or Disney Hall in Los Angeles, or glass billing sails at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. But here in Philadelphia, where he was tasked with re-imagining one of the country’s oldest and most important museums, he has left stainless steel and kinematics software at home.

A full fifteen years after the Gehry was incorporated by the Philadelphia Museum of Art to expand and renovate its Beaux-Arts home at the top of Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the first part of the work is complete – and discretionary. His main project, as the museum says, has cleaned the underground guts of his Greek Revival home and to build 20,000 additional square feet of galleries, with a fresh entrance and an atrium with potential for exhibits and gatherings Is constructed with an atrium. day. It cost $ 233 million so far, and This is just one part; After that additional new galleries will be underground, and a window that pierces the eastern stairway (you know, one From “Rocky”)

You will see Gehry’s quiet intervention through the first western entrance – which I still think of as the back of the museum, although it has been a primary reach for years. (The eastern entrance, away from the parkway and up the stairs, is closed for now.) It has more attractive glass doors and proper ramps for wheelchair use. The western lobby, called Lenfest Hall, has been given large windows, and has been deprived of north modern ticket booths designed by the museum’s previous architects, Robert Venturi and Dennis Scott Brown.

The east wall of the lobby has been torn down, and an auditorium has been torn down to make way for a new central atrium, clad in the same honey-toned limestone that the museum’s early architects had in 1928 Was used in Here you will see Gehry’s only concession for showmanship, in the form of a Piranesian switchback ladder leading to the basement level. It is even more spectacular, however, from the magnificent vaulted walkway that emerges from it, embellished in Gustavino tile and re-emerging after decades behind the house. (At the moment there is nothing here except a few statues, a gift shop and a small cafe; Macchiato was great.)

A floor up there are new galleries, whose design is satisfyingly boring – and in fact, it speaks volumes about museum buildings in the 25 years since Bilbao that we are now excited by the architecture that you barely see. (Once Gehry and his ilk were brought on the cover of magazines as a master builder; now everyone wants to be Lacaton and wasli, Whose over-prudent renovation won him this year’s Pritzker Prize.) However, this surgical approach was always Gehry’s plan. “It will be a real challenge to do something that is virtually hidden, which can be fantastic,” the architect Told the New York Times In 2006, when the museum brought him for the first time. Fantastic is not the word I would use for the result, but it is definitely smart. I’ll have it any day.

When all this is done it will be a very important museum, which may be similar to the Musée do Louvre: an old U-shaped palace whose three wings have first reached through places filled with light. Right now, Philly is still the right size for a pleasant long afternoon. With four hours you’ll make it through most of the collection.

Saint-Gaudens’ gilded Diana still dominates the main stairway, and Marcel Duchamp’s enigmatic “Attent Donus” still invites her to peep at the wooden door. “The Gross Clinic,” by Thomas Ekins That bloody masterpiece, Is currently here – the museum shares it with the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. The beautiful rotunda in the modern wing still holds the last and largest “bathers” of the Cézanne, though I gravitate to Edouard Manet “Battle of Kearsarge and Alabama”: Presents the largest painting of the American Civil War, which reintroduced maritime painting as an up-to-the-minute, trans-Atlantic media event.

Of the two large temporary exhibitions, the most important is a survey of “Senga Nengudi: Topology,” One of the most successful figures After American minimalist sculpture and performance. (It was organized by Lenbachos in Munich; it was spotted there in 2019 and has also visited Sao Paulo and Denver.) After studies in Los Angeles and Tokyo, and early experiments with fluid-filled plastics , Nengudi began sculpting in 1975 with the used pantyhose, sometimes shaped by internal strings. Some stretch ceilings, seemingly drawn to their limits; Some become relaxed under the weight of sand, and miss breasts or stones or tumors.

These delicate and temporary sculptures, collectively known as the “RSVP” series, are rare in such numbers; This alone makes this show an event. His influence also rests mainly in related performances by the artist. Maran Hassinger, Which would entangle her body in elastic fabric, as if the sculpture was any other dancer, broken but rejuvenated. On the show you will see early photographic documentation, a recent video of Hussinger dancing with Nengoodi sculptures, as well as a bank of TV monitors from other performances Nengudi and his colleagues did at Just Above Midtown, a leading black- Owned gallery is New York.

Among the new temporary exhibition galleries is “New Grit”, a group show of 25 artists from Philadelphia or living here. The quality is mixed, and it is a little too keen to be topical, but local artists are the perfect focus for the opening. Beyond the most familiar names (Howardna Pindale, Alex da Corte), its most valuable player is definitely David harto, Whose new commission marries “The Histories (Crepuscule)” tapestry and video, and imagery of Jamaica’s beaches and ice floats in Newfoundland, is a cross-media and cross-continent wandering.

Most surprising are the new American galleries, dedicated to art from the colonial period to the Civil War. They look great, at least in terms of visuals. Charles Wilson Peel and other American painters display colorful walls to take advantage of the museum’s deep collection. There is a rich display of Spanish colonial art here, and a illuminating gallery of Philadelphia’s free Black Clockmakers, porcelain makers and silver artisans.

Interpretively, there is still a way to go. The new wall texts underline the black and indigenous presence in Pennsylvania society, as well as the presence of slavery in a region that prefers to perceive itself as more enlightened than the rest of America. (For no reason: New York had seven times more slaves than Pennsylvania in 1890.) But it does so with the utmost attention to personal biography, canceling out the subject of each portrait for its personal evil , And hypnotizes other objects. For any alleged relationship to slavery.

For example, the text accompanying the silver bowl of the 17th century tells us nothing about the bowl, nothing about the silver market, but everything about silver, a John Hastier and his slaves Artisan, called Jasper. “Maybe Jasper made this bowl,” the panel said.

Sure, I don’t know, maybe! But who made this bowl is hardly as important as political and economic Institutions Which maintained its construction and aesthetic forms that connected it to other times and places and cultures. Right now we get new, moralistic language sprinkled on the same old story – and by the way, applying that language exclusively to American history can only be called myopic. In these galleries, to take just one example, I saw a charger fitted with the insignia of the Dutch East India Company, which established slavery on many continents; It passes without any comment.

For the museum – for all our museums, in fact – it will take longer to create an approach that places these objects in new relationships, rather than linking them with an asterisk that shows who was a good person and Who was a meaner? This is hardly impossible! It means treating objects and images as more than just a biographical record, but as vectors in a grand and global network of images and ideas. If we’re talking about colonial heritage-stained institutions, universal museums rank very high on the list – but who knows what new routes and sightlines you can get with the right renovations?

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Advance reservations were recommended but not required. 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia; 217-43-100, The museum remains open on Memorial Day.

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