Tuesday, July 18, 2006


My Minneapolis Article in the WSJ---Part II

Here's the second part of my article, appearing on the Leisure & Arts page in today's Wall Street Journal. (Here's Part I).

The MIA [Minneapolis Institute of Arts] had not originally planned to engage a "starchitect." But it was essentially shamed into doing so by the ambitions of its institutional peers: For its 2005 expansion the Walker Art Center had used Herzog & de Meuron, the Minneapolis Central Library had hired Cesar Pelli, and Jean Nouvel has designed the new Guthrie Theater, which began regular performances on Saturday.

A relatively conservative establishment in a quiet residential area, the MIA "didn't really see a need to promote cutting-edge architecture, because that isn't who we are in art. That's the Walker," noted curator Jacobsen, who had served as architectural liaison for the contractors, architects and curatorial staff. But after talking to three local architectural firms, Mr. Jacobsen recalled, the MIA ultimately felt "we had to go with a bigger name." Enter Mr. Graves, who had designed the Michael C. Carlos Museum in Atlanta, as well as the renovation and expansion of the Newark Museum in New Jersey. Also important were what Mr. Jacobsen termed the "well established connections" between the architect and Target, the MIA's biggest corporate donor, for whom Mr. Graves had designed a well-received line of housewares.

Speaking of the architect, Evan Maurer, who was the MIA's director until 2005, recounted during a recent interview that "what he and I talked about was how to be Michael Graves and be contemporary, but to exist between a 1974 minimalist building and a great Beaux Arts building-with materials, with proportions, with references. I think he did that brilliantly."

If not architecturally dazzling, the new wing is respectful of the museum's pre-existing facilities and hospitable to its art. Appealingly clad in richly textured Jura limestone, its box-like structure is relieved by niches and slim columns-deliberate references to the flagship neoclassical building. Its one glaringly false note is the kitschy faux sky, strewn with abundant white clouds, that is painted on the Venetian plaster dome crowning Graves's three-story atrium.

More daring in design, and strikingly dissimilar from each other as they are from the MIA, are Cesar Pelli's library and Jean Nouvel's theater. The former is invitingly open and light-filled, with soaring spaces and frosted images of digitized Minnesota nature photos, silk screened and baked onto its expansive glass walls-an evocation of Minneapolis' famously frozen winters.

The Guthrie Theater, Mr. Nouvel's first completed project in North America, is dark both inside and out. Meant to be mysterious and theatrical, it instead comes across as disorienting and gloomy. It transforms the distinguished regional theater from a 87,000-square-foot, one-stage facility adjoining the Walker Art Center into a 285,000-square-foot complex of three diverse performance spaces, a restaurant and education center-all relocated to the city's old industrial area on the banks of the Mississippi. Once best known for its flour mills, the riverfront is fast becoming the new trendy area for restaurants and residences.

Critics and audiences alike will continue to debate the merits of these recent high-profile additions to this city's thriving cultural scene. But as Mr. Griswold recently observed, one thing is beyond debate: "There could be no more exciting time to be in the Twin Cities."

[But wait! There's more to the story that could fit in the WSJ. Coming in CultureGrrl, later this week, more Minneapolis maunderings!]

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