For over a century the museum has been the most celebrated and respected venue for viewing original works of art, however the design and visitor experience of the museum has evolved extensively throughout history. This chapter investigates how the traditional museum has evolved and how the collaborative approach towards the design and internal arrangement of modern art museums affects the spatial experience of the visitor.
Duncan and Wallach in (see Carbonell 2004, p.52) state that, ‘Museums belong to the same architectural and art-historical category as temples, churches, shrines and certain types of palaces.
’ Originally, museum architecture shared characteristics with traditional ceremonial buildings ‘to make visible the idea of state’ within its context (see Carbonell 2004, p.52).
Museums were originally built to house collections of objects which are were of scientific, artistic, or historical importance and make them available for public viewing through exhibits that were permanent. This meant that the spaces and collections were fixed and objects were located deliberately to provide a specific spatial experience for each user.
However, according to Bordieu and Darbel in the work of Duncan and Wallach (see Carbonell 2004, p.53), ‘Individuals respond in different ways according to their education, culture and class.’ It is therefore debateable to say that due to the personal background of each user, they may experience a space differently to how a curator, architect or the artist desires.
The journey that a visitor experiences through any museum is usually described in terms of aesthetic contemplation and Duncan and Wallach (see Carbonell 2004, p.51) state that this can be affected by ‘the ensemble of art, the architecture and installations’, which are contributing factors to the overall spatial experience of the modern art museum.
These factors can be altered regularly to affect a user emotionally, visually or physically and are determined by the curators, the artists and the architects, to provide multiple experiences within one space.
Today’s society is embracing new museums that provide a wealth of subjects, particularly ones that cater for viewers of the popular trend that is contemporary art.
The contemporary art museum is considered a fairly modern category of museum. Also referred to as an art gallery or centre, art museums provide space(s) for the temporary exhibition of art. It is thought that the content of the contemporary art museum primarily consists of installations, including objects which are of a sculptural nature, paintings, digital art, fine art, and video art.
To design a modern art museum in the present century has become a popular challenge that is sought after by most architects and artists. Collaborative approaches towards museum design and layout have been encouraged as it is believed to enhance the users experience on a great scale, by providing them with a better aesthetic and social experience throughout their visit. The user’s experience can also provide them with lasting memories about the beliefs and values that museums hope to communicate.
Contemporary art museums are essentially temporary exhibition spaces, in comparison with traditional museum buildings that house permanent collections.
The actual design of the contemporary museum no longer has the traditional architectural values that a museum had in twentieth century for example. The ‘white cube’ effect has become a popular idea for museums within the 21st century with some artists and architects believing that the focus of a museum should be the art and not the architecture. However an ironic example of this is the Leytonstone Centre for Contemporary Art, launched in 2001 by British artist Bob Smith. Leytonstone is a London suburb which houses no significant arts venues. This space could be viewed as an artwork or as an art centre, as it primarily a single exhibition space at the end of the artist’s garden. The artist demonstrates that the white cube can be removed from the gallery or museum and reappear in a totally different context. By doing this he has dissolved the boundary between art and architecture as people may be confused as to what this space is: art or institution.
Temporary exhibition spaces raise the question; Does the modern art museum provide multiple spatial experience each time a new exhibition is displayed within it?
From the 11th June to the 2nd November 2009, The Architecture Foundation provided a series of dialogues in which artists, architects and critics investigated into how collaborative and artistic approaches can change the practice and products of architecture. This series, called Architecture + Art: Crossover and Collaboration, included a dialogue between Adam Caruso and Thomas Demand, chaired by Alex Farquharson, the Director of Nottingham Contemporary. During the dialogue, Caruso argues that a good exhibition shows artists work in relation to other work and how this creates the spatial experience of the exhibition:
A lot of exhibitions nowadays don’t sufficiently recognise that the point of an exhibition opposed to a catalogue, is that what physically experiences it, is actually the choice of the work and the configuration of the work in a gallery is a specific and unique event and it’s there and then it’s gone.
By saying this, he is implying that contemporary art exhibitions are intended to provide multiple unique spatial experiences for users and therefore when exhibitions have been and gone, a new spatial experience can be achieved within the same space. Today’s contemporary art museums have very few artefacts within them in comparison to the traditional museum. This significantly changes the traditional spatial experience, as the focus of the user is on the few items that are displayed within the museum and the often large spaces that have been dedicated to them, unlike a traditional museum where hundreds of items are displayed with no link to context. During the dialogue (2/11/2009, 7.00pm), Farquharson, states that ‘one problem in recent years within art galleries has been that they are too large for art’ and that the ‘majority or artists are not interested in exhibiting there’. Thomas Demand has had many major solo exhibitions at many of the world’s leading modern contemporary art institutions and he agrees with this remark by saying that when he looks to exhibit within a building, he inquires into what type of art work architects intend to provide their space for. Demand (Tate Channel 2009 2/11/2009, 7.00pm?) argues, ‘At some point you want to reshuffle things and you want to make more shows downstairs…is that possible or not?’ Some museums only employ selected artists to exhibit within their spaces for various reasons. These could be that they want art work to coincide with the internal spaces and architecture, or that they want to challenge the artwork through architecture, or visa-versa. As an artist, Demand wants art museums to offer flexible opportunities within their spatial layouts for exhibitions of his work. By saying this, he may be implying that he wants his artwork to offer multiple spatial experiences within one building and if the museum architecture does not have this capability, the creative exchange between the art and the architecture is not beneficial for the user as they are not receiving the best out of an art exhibition or the space.
Interactive exhibits within contemporary museums have become popular in the 21st century, which give the public the opportunity to make choices and engage in activities which may vary the spatial experience from person to person; particularly content that includes architectural installations as art.
With the opening of 21st century building styles, Victoria Newhouse argues:
Art as an entertainment is contested by many together with the related trend toward ever more spectacular museum architecture. While the latter suits some art, it does not suit all art, and in today’s wide variety of museums there is often a lack of harmony between container and contents. The need to coordinate this relationship is all too often ignored – by those commissioning new museums… (Newhouse 2005, p.215)
Newhouse thinks that the link between museum architecture and its content is fading, indicating that the collection is less significant than the architecture. In previous eras the interiors and architecture of the museum were related to its content. If Newhouse is correct, the lack of connection to architecture can affect the spatial experience and the focus of the museum becomes the architecture or the art. If there is no creative exchange between both disciplines, it could be said that the spatial experience will not benefit the user as the contributing factors to the overall spatial experience will not be linked.
The Renaissance was a time that saw integration between painting, sculpture and architecture. The oldest public museums in the world opened in Rome during this period. However, many significant museums in the world were not founded until the 18th century and the Age of Enlightenment.
Walter Gropius initiated a school in 1919 called the Bauhaus when he combined two existing institutions: the Academy of Fine Art and the School of Arts and Crafts. The Bauhaus was an attempt to create a new style appropriate for the machine age, whilst achieving integration between disciplines. The Bauhaus attitude (Toy 1997, p. 26) believed that: ‘The new building of the future, will embrace architecture, sculpture and painting in one unity’. The Bauhaus was seen to offer a modern vision towards design and education; this attitude demonstrated an objective language set out to relieve design of subjective ideas from the previous century.
Like the Bauhaus, the Modern Movement insisted there would be no more architectural styles and introduced architecture as a problem solving activity. The problem solving process encouraged the architect to find the perfect functional solution, given any set of technical, economic or social conditions. This method became a defensive mechanism within architecture, designed to keep others out of the building process. Late Modernism in the 1960’s however, led to a rebellion towards reason; this process involved dishonouring previous rules for design by using curved forms. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York was seen as an example of this subjective reaction.
The Percent for Art scheme which was introduced in 1990, which capitalised on the growing public art movement in this country, had an intention to extend the opportunities within architecture and public sites for artists through collaboration with architects. This implied the general thought that artists should to be more involved within public building projects from the beginning of the building process.
Since then, there has been an increase within collaborative projects for buildings, public spaces and gallery installations.
During the 20th century architects tended to work closely with engineers on architectural projects, these relationships were formed to solve spatial problems with a functional response towards design. These relationships had the underlying issue that some architects refused to develop a self-directed aesthetic communication. This meant that architects held back on their subjective design approach and therefore created architecture based on functional and technical reasoning. This process consequently affected architects’ subjective judgment and their creativity.
As a result, the idea of working with an artist became appealing to architects.