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Pianissimo

A month after the opening, The New Yorker’s architecture critic, Paul Goldberger, finally says his piece, in the May 29 issue, on Renzo Piano‘s addition to the Morgan Library and Museum. Shouldn’t a weekly magazine be right on the news? And shouldn’t he have included Columbia University’s 18-acre, mega-expansion in Harlem on his list of the New York City projects that Piano is currently designing?
By contrast, the NY Times’ Nicolai Ouroussoff weighed in more than two weeks early—the first of five Times scribes to lavish attention and praise on the newspaper’s house architect, who also designed the Times’ new headquarters, now under construction (and prematurely panned by Goldberger).
What’s strange, in both cases, is that neither critic saw fit to comment on what, to my mind, is an architectural flop: Piano’s expansion of the High Museum of Art, which opened last November—his most recently completed project in America before the Morgan.
His addition to the High’s original Richard Meier building, which made that architect’s reputation, was a new direction for Piano, who was best known and justly admired for his stand-alone, intimately scaled, one-collector museums (the Menil, Nasher, Beyeler and Klee galleries).
Perhaps it was Piano’s concern for not upstaging or clashing with Meier that made his own structure understated to a fault: The flat expanses of painted metal panels (a similar vocabulary to that of the Morgan addition’s exterior) look dull beside the lustrous, curved enamel skin of Meier’s masterpiece.
The chief visual interest in Piano’s High is the building’’s crown, which houses its skylights. He calls it a ““flotilla of sails.”” It looks marvelous in photos taken from above. But from ground level, the “sails”” look more like the top of a picket fence. Even Piano’s usual strongpoint, the sensitive use of natural light, is less successful in Atlanta: Perhaps overreacting to criticism of the harsh glare from Meier’’s skylights, Piano engineered elaborately constructed skylights that don’’t adequately illuminate paintings.
For my appraisal of the new Morgan, you’ll have to wait for the June issue of Art in America magazine (“Front Page” section).

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