It’s small recompense for having been unceremoniously dumped from a much publicized, coveted commission. But British architect David Chipperfield must have felt at least a twinge of satisfaction in thumbing his nose at his fickle client, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on the occasion of his having been named as the recipient of architecture’s highest (and most lucrative) honor—the $100,000 Pritzker Prize.
As reported by Robin Pogrebin in Wednesday’s NY Times (online Tuesday):
Chipperfield [who was supplanted by Mexican architect Frida Escobedo as the chosen architect for the renovation of the Southwest Wing for modern and contemporary art] said he was blindsided, having heard in advance neither from the Met’s director, Max Hollein, nor any of the trustees. “It was one of the most deft[?!?] exercises I’ve ever seen to get rid of an architect without firing them,” Chipperfield said. (Asked about this, the museum said it had reached out to Chipperfield before making its public statement.)
Back in March 2015, the Metropolitan Museum had triumphantly announced the “final selection [emphasis added] of David Chipperfield Architects “to develop a new design for the Southwest Wing for modern and contemporary art, and potentially for adjacent galleries for the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas [instead assigned in 2018 to Kulapat Yantrasast, seen here at the groundbreaking for the renovation of the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing], as well as additional operational spaces.”
The selection of the (now de-selected) British architect had occurred under the directorship of Tom Campbell, who, raised in Cambridge, England, had a predilection for Brits. According to the Met’s 2015 press release: “The announcement [of Chipperfield’s selection] followed a year-long research and selection process led by a committee of the Museum’s Board of Trustees. The committee’s recommendation was approved by a vote of the full Board on March 10.”
In my Chipper About Chipperfield blog post later that month, I had greeted the news with high praise. Here’s a long excerpt from my favorable Mar. 24, 2015 appraisal:
The Met said that its architectural selection was based on “three criteria: vision, experience, and compatibility. David Chipperfield’s global architectural experience and sensibility, along with his commitment to the collaborative aspect of creating architecture, make him a perfect partner on this milestone project.”
He was widely praised for his 2013 addition to the St. Louis Art Museum, which I got to see only from the outside, while its galleries were still undergoing installation. [My post about that expansion, including a CultureGrrl Video, is here.]
The exterior favorably impressed me, as I had stated in an interview during my St. Louis sojourn with Stefene Russell of St. Louis Magazine.
I told her: “It contrasts. It doesn’t try to imitate the Cass Gilbert building, which I think is a good thing; you don’t want to slavishly imitate that. It’s very different, and yet I think it is respectful….The architect did something that was clearly of today….Chipperfield is not doing a “look-at-me” kind of building….It’s trying to stay respectfully in the background, and yet provide something new….I like that approach.”
Similarly, architecture critic James Russell recently described Chipperfield as “an architect with a strong but respectful esthetic—a rare combination these days.”
I also liked his more under-the-radar Figge Art Museum in Davenport, IA, which “was designed to be flooded,” as its then director, Sean O’Harrow, humorously but truthfully told me. “The parking garage is intended to contain the overflow,” of the Mississippi River, Sean explained.
Notwithstanding her “numerous accolades” (in the words of the Met’s press release announcing her selection), I have not yet seen any of Escobedo’s work. I’m guessing that her concepts and projects completed during her relatively brief career may appeal to Met director Max Hollein’s taste for the experimental and offbeat. But as someone who has heard scores of architects’ presentations, and on the evidence of her discourse last year as part of the “Met Speaks” series, I’d say that she’s not a great communicator.
In reading comments by the Whitney Museum’s director-designate (currently its senior deputy director and chief curator) Scott Rothkopf (as quoted by Robin Pogrebin in yesterday’s NY Times hardcopy), I couldn’t help but notice the contrast between the Whitney’s pending director-transition and the situation at the Met when Hollein came on board.
According to Rothkopf:
One of the great things about an internal succession like this is we can continue the work we’ve been doing with equity and inclusion—thinking about our community and the city. We have a tremendous curatorial team and most of them I’ve hired, so it’s not like someone who arrives and says, ‘How do I change this? How do I make this my own?’
Hollein, by contrast, is all about change. He is provocatively putting his own stamp on a venerable institution, overriding considered decisions made by his professional predecessors. Discretion and respect for precedent are not his strong suits. In shaking things up, he sometimes seems to prioritize attention-grabbing novelty over serious scholarship.
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