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Rating the New Museums: The Best (and Worst) of 2007—Part I

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Top of the Heap: The New Museum on the Block

By Martin Filler, Guest Blogger

Last year marked both the 10th anniversary of Frank Gehry‘s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
and the 30th of Renzo Piano‘s and
Richard Rogers‘ Centre Georges Pompidou–the two most influential cultural buildings
of our time. As the worldwide construction boom spurred by those watershed
projects continued unabated, 2007 witnessed the inauguration of still more
museum buildings and additions. Here are my highly opinionated personal picks for the
best new museum architecture of the year just past, to be followed tomorrow by
my list of the worst.

New Museum for
Contemporary Art, New York, by SANAA.
My choice for 2007’s Museum of the
Year. Okay, it’s not perfect, but despite the industrial-strength fluorescent
lighting, narrow stairways, and a few other lapses, no new museum in recent
memory has exhilarated me anywhere as much. Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa‘s
astonishing triumph over a tight budget and even more restricted site is an
urbanistic tour-de-force. This Miracle on the Bowery, as I’ve called it,
delivers spaces ideal for contemporary art of all kinds, as well as
a stunning refutation of the grow-or-die philosophy epitomized by MoMA’s
soul-killing metamorphosis from artworld clubhouse to global corporate
headquarters. The brilliant New Museum cost $50 million; the bloated new MoMA,
more than $500 million. Museum boards take note: You sometimes get what you don’t pay for.

Perelman Building,
Philadelphia Museum of Art, by Gluckman Mayner Architects.
Because Richard
Gluckman
earned his bones converting gritty industrial relics into peerless
exhibition spaces, I had qualms about his turning a fancy Classical-Deco office
building into a contemporary art annex. Not to worry. The Perelman feels
absolutely right from start to finish, providing protective internalized rooms
for light-sensitive photography, costume, and design, but also an airy,
loftlike gallery that makes sculpture and installation pieces look terrific.
Without being unduly deferential or disrespectful toward the landmark original,
Gluckman and David Mayner again prove how their inspired retrofits trump many
of today’s start-from-scratch museum schemes.

Museo del Prado
addition, Madrid, by Jose Rafael Moneo Arquitecto.
An almost audible sigh
of relief wafted through the artworld when Rafael Moneo‘s Prado wing debuted
late last year. Although Moneo designed the imposing National Museum of Roman
Art of 1980-86 in Mérida, Spain, for the Prado he rejected any hint of
grandiosity and crafted an appropriately dignified amplificacion that neither plays dead nor pleads for attention.
This stolid brick treasure chest pays subtle homage to the foursquare masonry
of traditional Spanish architecture, and graciously focuses attention on the 19th-century art inside With consummate self-assurance, this modern
master elevates himself high above the fray of today’s sensation-seeking museum
mongers.

Museum of
Contemporary Art, Denver, by Adjaye Associates.
The London-based David
Adjaye
, 42, has swiftly become a fixture on the hippest architectural
shortlists, including the New York commission won by SANAA (above.) His
invigorating design for the New Museum’s Denver counterpart confirms him as an
international leader among the profession’s mid-career generation. After Daniel
Libeskind
‘s sculpturally overwrought, functionally troubled, titanium sheathed
Denver Art Museum addition of 2000-06, Adjaye’s elegant minimalist box (go here and click: “New Building”),
sheathed in smoky tinted glass, seems the antithesis of such dated post-Bilbao
“destination” architecture. Although this flexible series of display spaces has
struck some as insufficiently defined, I’ll take Adjaye’s adaptable
amorphousness over Libeskind’s Cinderella-slipper formalism any time.

Greek and Roman
Galleries, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, by Jeffrey L. Daly after a
plan by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo Associates.
Although not a freestanding
addition or autonomous wing, the Met’s spectacular new Greek and Roman
Galleries
merit a high place among 2007’s museum successes. The idea for
converting the Met’s erstwhile cafeteria (dubbed the “Dorotheum” after its
chi-chi 1940s makeover by decorator Dorothy Draper) into gallery space grew
from the master plan of architect Kevin Roche, but design credit belongs to the
museum’s Jeffrey L. Daly, with considerable help from Greek and Roman curator
Carlos Picón and colleagues. Machado and Silvetti’s unironic recasting of the
Roman replica Getty Villa in Malibu, completed in 2006, took the high-style
curse off historical revivalism and indirectly legitimized the unapologetic
traditionalism of the Met’s latest museum-within-a-museum–the final triumph of
Philippe de Montebello‘s long, glorious, and lamentably concluding
directorship.

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