Fast Talk: With Daniel Libeskind

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The Lee-Chin Crystal/Daniel Libeskind — Photos courtesy of Royal Ontario Museum

In the ordinary course of my work I travel around alot to see new buildings and shows and to talk to the people involved, artists, architects, museum directors, curators and so on. Sometimes I just to check in with people and see what they’re up to. I thought I would start to share brief bits of Q & A from the those talks, no more than three to five questions.

So here’s a few things from a conversation last week with Daniel Libeskind, architect, accordion virtuoso and all purpose advance man for the future, which took place at his office in New York. The Lee-Chin Crystal (named for a donor) is Libeskind’s fiercely conceived new addition to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. It opens next month.

LACAYO:  When I was coming through passport control on the way to Toronto recently the guy checking my passport asked me what was my business in Canada. I told him I was here to take a look at your new building. It turned out he was very aware of it but also kind of perplexed by it.  His reaction was to say to me: “What’s that about?’  I told him that would be my first question to you.  So, what’s that about?

LIBESKIND: I designed that building exactly to evoke that response.  This is not just something you already know.  It’s a reinvention. It’s really like opening a new window into the city’s dynamic and the culture’s dynamic. It’s not business as usual. It’s not just another black box. 

LACAYO:  All the same, people are going to ask what they always ask about your work. Why work in these thrusting, diagonal lines? What’s wrong with the straight ahead forms we already know? 

LIBESKIND: I love orthogonal architecture but it belongs to a certain period in history.  In a democratic society architecture has many possibilities.  We’re not meant to sort of become “rigor mortised” at some point and say “OK, This is it.  Now nothing more will happen.”  Economics is changing, art is changing, science is changing, everything is developing.  Why should architecture not also be part of new discoveries?  Wonders, new spaces that have not been built before — Why should we only see these things on TV or in virtual reality?  Why not go there in real space?

LACAYO:  After your addition to the Denver Art Museum opened last fall, some people complained that all those slanting, trapezoidal gallleries were too difficult for the display of art, that they created spaces too dynamic for the quiet contemplation of the works.

LIBESKIND: The display of art is also not set for eternity. It has changed over time. Look how differently things were displayed in the 19th century.  I think these buildings are very sympathetic to the art, because they energize. Curators are not boring people. They’re not people who are asleep.  They also want to create a new experience for the viewer. …. And by the way, not a single one of my clients has ever asked me to make a box.  None of them said to me — we want you to design something like somebody else.