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Not Dead Yet: Museum Building Projects Are Alive and Kicking

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Rendering of the planned Clyfford Still Museum, Denver

Just as I thoughtRobin Pogrebin‘s article about the various setbacks for museum building projects fits squarely in the NY Times’ time-honored tradition of reporting on a trend that’s almost at an end.

Her Saturday piece had barely hit the recyclables pile when no less than four art museums (did I miss any?) released important capital-project news:

—The St. Louis Art Museum announced at a press conference just this morning that it will hold formal groundbreaking on Jan. 19 for its David Chipperfield-designed expansion project, which had been delayed due to economic conditions from its planned November 2008 start. Preparation of the site begins now.

According to today’s press release:

The Board’s decision to move forward was based on stable and favorable market conditions, successful contract negotiations, and continued leadership support for the capital campaign.

All of the above are the reasons why we may increasingly see museums commencing or resuming building projects. For its capital campaign, St. Louis has already received commitments of over $135 million from its nearest and dearest and is seeking another $10 million during the public phase of fundraising.

The project cost is $130.5 million, with an additional $31.5 million is to be raised for endowment (a total “expansion initiative” of $162 million). The St. Louis Development Corporation’s Industrial Development Authority has issued $45 million in bonds to bridge the gap between pledged gifts and cash on hand.

—The Hirshhorn Museum announced yesterday to NY Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff (and maybe to the rest of us scribes, eventually) that it intends to expand (and contract) with “an inflatable structure that pokes through the building’s top and side.” The 145-foot-tall temporary meeting hall, designed by Diller Scofidio+Renfro, is to be blown up in May and in October, and deflated the rest of the year, according to Ouroussoff’s account.

There’s nothing about this project, at this writing, on the Hirshhorn’s website or the website of its hometown newspaper, the Washington Post. Maybe the museum just wanted to float this trial balloon to see if it pops.

For now, we have to take Ouroussoff’s word that the addition will likely become “a luminous pop landmark.” He never mentions, though, what the Smithsonian’s altered “doughnut” would most resemble—a robin’s egg in its nest:

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Image: Diller Scofidio+Renfro

—The Clyfford Still Museum, designed by Brad Cloepfil, broke ground yesterday in Denver. The facility has been “slightly trimmed” and will open “in the middle of 2011—a year later than planned,” according to Kyle MacMillan‘s report in the Denver Post.

MacMillan writes:

Museum leaders decided not to move ahead
with the building’s construction until they had raised $25 million—a
little more than 85 percent of the funded project’s total design and
construction budget.
In part because of…lower
construction costs brought on by the depressed economy, the building’s
estimated cost has been cut from $33 million to $29 million.

And that’s another reason why Pogrebin’s trend may have mostly run its course—recession pricing for construction projects.

—The Cleveland Museum of Art yesterday issued a statement (not online at this writing) that its board had just voted to proceed with the “next step” in its major Rafael Viñoly expansion project:

This next step…will include completion of the museum’s new West Wing structure; atrium roof and enclosures; and administrative offices, as well as mechanicals, electrical and plumbing throughout the building. The entire project, scheduled to be completed in 2013, is expected to cost $350 million, of which the museum has successfully raised more than $215 million thus far.

The leadership of the museum continues to take a strategic, phased approach to the management of this renovation and expansion project. Even during this period of economic challenge, both in Cleveland and nationally, this has helped to ensure that the museum matches cash flow to its fundraising and financing without significant risk to the institution.

But what about the “significant risk” to the museum’s acquisitions nest egg? When I asked yesterday about the status of the dicey proposal to raid art-purchase funds for bricks-and-mortar expenditures (for which the museum sought and received court permission), communications manager James Kopniske told me:

At this time, the Cleveland Museum of Art has not diverted income from the four art purchase funds to the building project. We haven’t decided when and how much of the income from the four funds to divert.

And in other museum expansion news:

—The Boston Museum of Fine Arts‘ British-born director (now an American citizen), Malcolm Rogers, was named Apollo magazine’s Personality of the Year in its December issue.

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The London-based art magazine writes:

It is a great pleasure to pay this tribute to him in advance of the plaudits that will surely be heaped upon him and his colleagues next November, when the museum opens its spectacular new wing.

Among its many photos of its cover boy, the magazine features a shot of Rogers “amid construction of the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Visitor Center”—part of the major renovation and expansion (including a new American wing) designed by Norman Foster. The project successfully concluded its capital campaign in June 2008 (good timing), raising a whopping $504 million.

—The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA expects to break ground next year on its Tadao Ando-designed expansion and is thus far undeterred by this recent glitch: “Input from the neighbors [who raised objections at a recent public hearing] is a normal and anticipated part of the process
and we do not expect delays,” Sally Morse Majewski, the museum’s manager of public relations and marketing, told me. About half of the construction documents have been completed, she said. Opening is anticipated for 2014.

In the meantime, it’s status quo—full steam ahead and very slow going—for the Renzo Piano-designed projects of the Kimbell and Whitney museums, respectively:

Eric Lee, director of the well-endowed Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, told me (through a spokesperson):

Renzo Piano is nearing the completion of design development and will soon begin to prepare construction documents. We expect to release the final designs in the spring.

Groundbreaking is to occur in mid-2010 for this $100-million plus, self-funded expansion. Opening is scheduled for 2013.

—There’s nothing new to report on the Whitney Museum‘s plans for a large new downtown facility, which I last updated here. In her litany of museum expansion woes, Robin failed to mention the project languishing on her home turf.

Whitney spokesperson Stephen Soba yesterday told me:

As for next steps, we are still reviewing the timetable. The capital campaign remains in its silent phase and we have nothing further to announce at the moment regarding fundraising, design, construction, or timeline.

—I learned for the first time through a brief mention in Pogrebin’s article that the Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, NY, had scotched the expansion plans for which an architect was to have been announced this year. Its director, Louis Grachos, told me in a phone interview today that the project had been quietly put on hold in September 2008, after the economic crisis hit. A feasibility study had indicated that a total of about $70 million would have to be raised for the project to succeed, including $25-30 million that would be needed in endowment funds to cover increased operating costs related to a new 50,000-square-foot facility.

The museum has now gone back to the drawing board, with a new “strategic plan” scheduled to be unveiled in February. The Albright-Knox received a huge financial windfall from its squall of dubious deaccessioning in 2007, but that money will (appropriately) be used only for acquisitions, not construction.

Grachos told me:

We hope by spring to have a decision on addressing our facility issues. We really slowed down the process. We don’t want to see ourselves in the position of adding a building and not being at the point where we can keep it alive.

In the meantime, he hopes to display works that the museum has bought with some of its deaccession proceeds. Those acquisitions, he told me, “haven’t yet been installed.”

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