Should art museums be designed to surprise and delight or to instruct and uplift? Should the museum building be a temple of art or an entertainment complex? Architectural historian Victoria Newhouse considers these and other questions about museums in her book Towards a New Museum
. Newhouse examines dozens of art museums built during the 1980s and 1990s and describes how the buildings fit into the history of ideas about the proper function of museums. Some museums are like cabinets of curiosities, a hodgepodge of items the collector assembles to delight viewers. Other designers of museums strive to provide a neutral environment that does not distract viewers from the art. However, some architects believe that hanging paintings on white walls in galleries separates the art from its context. Architects and artists have grappled with these ideas and created some stunning and outlandish museums in recent years. Newhouse describes the sinuous, titanium-coated new Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the fractured forms of the Fredrick R. Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis. She writes about the artist Donald Judd, who bought most of Marfa, Texas, and made it a museum. These are bold and sometimes beautiful museums. Newhouse wisely includes plenty of good pictures and diagrams of each building.
In different segments of the book, Newhouse discusses: private museums, museums that function as temples of art, museums devoted to one artist, and museums designed by artists. She also devotes a chapter to the unfortunate impact of museum politics on design. This chapter, "Wings That Don't Fly," illustrates some of the more vivid design disasters in recent history, including the "toilet tank" addition to the Guggenheim in New York. Art historians, architects, and people who are connected to museums will find this book an instructive, thoughtful overview of what's going on with museums today. --Jill Marquis
...Towards a New Museum
[is] about as complete a tour of the horizon of important new buildings as you are likely to find.... Ms. Newhouse is not just an astute and tireless visitor to these and many other places, but a trenchant critic and observer. -- The Wall Street Journal, Raymond Sokolov
Reading through these pages is to be engaged in a provocative conversation with passionate, very intelligent people. -- The New York Times Book Review, D.J.R. Bruckner