Friday, June 12, 2015

Reflections on contemporary art museums, upon the opening of Moscow's "Garage Museum"

Citing Hili Perlson, [Note: an excellent analysis of Garage at]

"The Garage Museum for Contemporary Art is opening the doors of its new permanent home at Gorky Park to the public tomorrow [June 12]. The building—formerly a restaurant built in 1968 in the generous Soviet style saved for public buildings and complete with mosaics—was in disarray when Rem Koolhaas's OMA started devising plans for its re-functioning." 

JB Comment

I could not help (perhaps too viscerally) to conclude: A perfect mix of a not-so-young "New Russian" and a "Mr. Sensation," perhaps passé, Dutch-born architect.

Image from above article, with caption: Press conference at Garage Museum of Contemporary Art on June 10 Photo: Courtesy Garage Museum

I've always found genius Koolhaas rather prepotente and publicity seeking. I must admit that my ideal, non-imaginary museum (to steal a phrase from Malraux) is the old "West" wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, where the emphasis is on the paintings on display rather than on the architect hired to house them there.

"Old" National Gallery image from

I go to museums to admire works of art, not to genuflect before trend-conscious architects showing off. As for the "new,"

poorly constructed "East" wing of the National Gallery (above), by master "
I am Paid" (I. M. Pei, the designer of the God-awful, eye-busting communist Chinese Embassy in Washington [below]);

image from

it (Pei's National Gallery addition) lacks adequate toilet facilities (first things first); you have to line up to pee in Pei's gallery.

Poor Art, my best high school friend -- how would he fare in the latest fairygrounds museums designed by pretentious, ambitious architects who think they are more important than the art they are intended to preserve, for posterity and, equally important, for the enlightenment of the public.

My old pal Art's being turned into an instant "Wow, "OMG" architectural "experience" rather than a long-lasting artistic revelation. 

I'd go so far as to say the ideal museum is, for me, a medieval cathedral, rather than a post-post-post-post (how many "posts" can modernism stand) zoo. At least cathedrals were meant to honor God (whoever she is) and her saints -- often beautifully and inspirationally painted/sculpted -- and not the cathedrals' architects. But perhaps I am being nostalgically naive about human intentions in the past.

image from

When I roam, afoot and light hearted, without an agenda, in the (thank God air-conditioned) original, West Win (no typo) of the National Gallery in Washington,

Image from the "old" National Gallery building, where American plumbing glorifies USA public toilets at their best 

enjoying the dolce far niente and where admission is still thankfully free, I cannot help but think of the verses of Baudelaire: 

image from

"Là, tout n'est qu'ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté" 
(of course Matisse painted the above painting under that title).

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