Ouroussoff Hates The New Look

In his article Eccentricity Gives Way to Uniformity in Museums, NYT architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff deplores the trend of museum expansion/migration from odd idiosyncratic residential spaces to the massive retail-happy museums of recent creation. Singling out changes made to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, The Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, CA, and the move of the Barnes Foundation from the suburbs to downtown Philly, Ouroussoff writes:

All three museums, each built by a wealthy eccentric, once represented intensely personal visions. All were conceived as alternatives to the offerings of the elite cultural establishment. And by the time the Barnes completes its move, all will have been remade into slick, corporate artistic institutions of a sort that their founders no doubt would have deplored.

Yet even more striking is what these transformations suggest about what we’ve become as a culture. The three museums’ iconoclastic collectors, and the institutions they built, embodied an America that still embraced an ideal of stubborn individualism. That spirit is now mostly gone, a victim of institutional conventions and corporate boards, and by a desire for mainstream acceptance that has displaced a willingness to break rules.

I agree with Ouroussoff’s point to a degree– I love the architectural context and curated arrangement of a museum like The Frick Collection— but the function of museums has evolved in the past fifty years. These buildings must be more than places of display and preservation. Museums are educational and cultural centers that require spaces in which to educate and hold events.

Aren’t there any museum additions/moves that are both respectful of an institution’s heritage and provide the necessary amenities?


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