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Anxious about Addition

March 5, 2008
Photo: Monica Almeida/The New York Times

After reading through multiple reviews of architect Renzo Piano’s extension, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art I have to say that I am somewhat anxious about how the addition to the Art Institute of Chicago will turn out. They were, at best, only slightly disparaging. You can read the reviews in New York Times here, Los Angeles Times here, and the New York Review of Books here. The picture above picture from the NY Times is the frontal view of the museum which illustrates one of the many problems cited, that is, the huge dull walls facing the street which gives the museum a hulking and monolithic feel. The palm tree-on-blue is actually are giant banners hung on scrims, presumably to disguise the weightiness of the exterior.

Considering that Piano’s “Modern Wing” addition to the Art Institute of Chicago is opening in 2009, these lackluster reviews are probably causing more people then just this author some anxiety. However, I think that the pitfalls in LA will be avoided here in Chicago. To see the plans for the building click here. The frontal facade, facing Monroe St., will be sheer glass which allays concerns about a weighty and boring entry. The dull, hulking wall criticized in LA here will be turned to the Metra train line that bisects the museum and as such will be needed and appropriate.

This is not avant-garde or daring architecture, but that’s alright. The proposed design is classical and elegant modernist architecture and as such is perfectly in step with both the collection and the institution. It would be odd for this respectable and historic institute to have a really radical addition. The Piano addition is essentially updating the language of the classical Beaux-Arts hall that is the original building of 1893. The Piano is likewise reserved, rectilinear, and displays the art in natural light. For modern art, this building seems to fit the bill both for the art and the institution, for a contemporary art museum Piano may have been too conservative for LA.

I’ll reserve final judgment for the building for its opening in 2009, but for now it looks like the pitfalls in LA are avoided here.

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