Sunday, June 11, 2006

New Wing Opens at the MIA

It was opening weekend for the Minneapolis Institute of Art's Target wing this weekend, so the significant-other and I trekked over there to check it out. Overall, my feelings about the expansion are somewhat mixed. I love the MIA, and am proud to be a member, but am disappointed in the new wing of the building. I really whish I could write glowingly about it, but I can't.

According to the grand opening pamphlet handed out to visitors, "the building, designed by celebrated American architect Michael Graves, is itself a work of art--forming an aesthetic bridge between the neoclassical elegance of the original 1915 McKim, Mead and White-designed Building and the Stark minimalism of the 1974 Kenzo Tange-designed addition."

Unfortunately, it doesn't really do anything of the sort. The design clashes Tange addition--and not in a way that's good or interesting--and at best is a disrespectful parody of the McKim, Mead building. While a lot of people probably find the Tange addition ugly, it at least went to great lengths to be respectful and even deferential to the original building. (In many ways, the Tange addition acted as near-literal bookends to the first building.)

In fairness, the space in which the new addition was placed didn't allow it to take an elegant of an approach as was available with the first addition. But still, the new addition looks more like a rogue appendage than a meaningful part of the museum. Even the stone covering the new addition clashes with everything else; instead of coming off as a new part of the MIA, it says, hey, look, I'm a new Michael Graves building! While he's still a trendy architect, I suspect most of his stuff is going to look ridiculous in just a decade or so.

Which brings us to the interior. The focal point of the new addition, the atrium, is uninspiring and cheap-looking. At best, it looks like the interior of some college library somewhere, at worst, the court of an upscale shopping mall. The ceiling "sky" appears to have been sponged on, something up to this point I thought was mostly reserved for the bedrooms of college or high-school art students. At least we won't have to worry about it beginning to look dated, as it looks dated now.

Thankfully, there is a bright side in the fantastic amount of new gallery space. (Mercifully, the new galleries are practically indistinguishable from most of those in the old building.) According to the MIA, exhibition space has increased by 40%, and as a result what Minneapolis now has is not just a fantastic, diverse art museum, but one that is now unequivocally world-class. After spending a few hours there this afternoon, Lisa and I decided that we'd have to come back some weekend when the crowds have receded somewhat and we can spend five or six hours wandering its halls. For all practical purposes its a new museum, and it deserves to be treated as such.

I just wish the new addition was better.

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