The first glimpse of Guggenheim Bilbao’s rippling titanium walls in 1997 was a game-changer. Never again would paintings be displayed in humdrum hallways.But "humdrum hallways" are good places to look at paintings, and bizarre spaces full of curving titanium surfaces are not. Is an art museum supposed to be a place to look at lots of art by many artists, or a single giant work of sculpture?
And then, in a comment on the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, the other problem with recent museums:
Packed with 1,200 years of sextants, silk carpets, and elaborately detailed pitchers, the Museum of Islamic Art dedicates only 10 percent of its space to galleries. Much else is left open, like a soaring 164-foot central atrium topped with a tiny round skylight that evokes the Cairo mosque on which the stone building was modeled.The National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC has this same problem, that only 10 percent or so of its space is devoted to galleries. Which may make for cool architecture but is very frustrating for people who actually want to look at objects. The museum is controversial for the content of some of its exhibits, but none of the exhibits bothered me so much as the huge waste of space.
(Note to my children's teachers, who insist that they learn to say "Native Americans": notice that this institution, planned, run, and designed by Indians, is called the Museum of the American Indian. I have never met an actual Indian who wanted to be called a Native American, and I work with Indians all the time. "Native Americans" is a bit of white liberal claptrap.)