At Carnegie Museum of Art, we recently opened the exhibition White Cube, Green Maze: New Art Landscapes in the Heinz Architectural Center. I’m especially proud of this show because I believe it breaks new ground. Curator Ray Ryan has looked carefully at six sites: Instituto Inhotim, Brazil; Stiftung Insel Hombroich, Germany; Grand Traiano Art Complex, Italy; Benesse Art Site Naoshima, Japan; Jardín Botánico de Culiacán, Mexico; and Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle, United States. Each unites an interest in environmental sustainability, innovative architecture, and new modes of art-making and display, suggesting the possibility of an emerging trend that could transform the meaning and experience of museums.
These sites literally fracture the notion of the trophy museum, which in recent times has as its model Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao, opened in 1997. One of the great architectural statements of the 20th century, it is a remarkable sculptural form that is perfectly integrated into the postindustrial cityscape. The museum’s titanium curves beautifully reflect and add luster to the gray light of the city. Part of an effort to revitalize Bilbao, Spain, the museum did just that, bringing about four million tourists to the city in its first three years, and greatly benefitting the economy. Other locales followed suit and built new museums; most got a temporary bump in attendance, but few if any have had the Guggenheim Bilbao’s dramatic impact.
White Cube, Green Maze offers an alternative to the “Guggenheim effect.” The sites considered are not focused on singular buildings; rather, they are marked by the integration of indoor and outside spaces, and their relationship to the objects in them and the people who use them. Ryan wisely commissioned the architectural photographer Iwan Baan to record each site. While classic architectural photography shows buildings devoid of human beings, highlighting the formal qualities of the structures, Baan’s images engage with architecture in its social context. His photographs suggest something of the experience of inhabiting these spaces, and touchingly reveal the warmth with which locals view them. His images of Benesse Art Site Naoshima, located on a series of islands in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea, relay the pride residents have in the place and the art. Tatiana Bilbao, the architect of Jardín Botánico de Culiacán, recounts the pleasure that a jogger takes in the botanical garden. The runner has changed her long-accustomed route so that she can hear, over and over, artist Tino Sehgal’s work, in which a performer sings to her when she runs by. Many of these sites have had a beneficial economic impact. Inhotim, which is in the countryside outside Belo Horizonte, Brazil, includes a day care center for workers’ children, an expansive school program for local youth, and a focus on preservation of the environment. It has so successfully invigorated the local community that they are building an outpost in the city proper.
White Cube, Green Maze suggests that people may enjoy art more when it isn’t enclosed in buildings. Buildings—especially great ones—can make art intimidating; in smaller structures or out in the landscape, visitors may feel more at ease with art, and be more likely to build a relationship to it. At CMA, we won’t give up on our very beautiful interior spaces, but we are striving to make them more welcoming; and in years to come, we’ll use our exterior in new ways that underscore the porosity of the museum, extending the institution outward and bringing the life of the city inside. You’ll see us begin to do this during the upcoming 2013 Carnegie International.
It’s good to have an exhibition up that makes you think differently. Don’t miss White Cube, Green Maze!
Until next month,