Dedicated to the One I Love

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The Miami Art Museum unveiled the interim design for its new home today, a “work in progress” model by Herzog & de Meuron that MAM Director Terry Riley says can be expected to evolve over the next year or so in part on the basis of public comment.

Riley has said that he’d like the final design to provide for a few “anchor” galleries that would each hold a single work of art. That got me thinking about how powerful those can be, an impression I had again recently on a visit to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, where there are two.

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Book With Wings, Anselm Kiefer, 1992 — Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

One is an oval grey concrete chamber that holds Anselm Kiefer’s Book With Wings and lends a phenomenal charge of light, weight, space and semi-confinement to Kiefer’s paradox of leaden wings taking flight.

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Ladder for Booker T. Washington, Martin Puryear, 1996 — Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

The other dedicated gallery at the Fort Worth is a deep concrete carton that usually holds Martin Puryear’s Ladder for Booker T. Washington, which is now on view at MoMA in New York as part of the Puryear retrospective. I’m sorry I missed it in Fort Worth. Based on pictures, the top lit, cell-like space would seem to dramatize both the irony and the genuine pathos of Puryear’s commentary on Washington’s optimistic formula for black success in America.

I still miss the small gallery at the National Gallery in London where you could sit on a sofa and commune in semi-darkness with Leonardo’s cartoon of The Virgin and Child with St. Anne, which was displayed by itself. Some years ago the National moved it to a brightly lit and crowded main gallery. Something may be gained by being able to see the picture closer to Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks, but something really magical was lost. And I wasn’t the only one whose heart sank a few years ago when MoMA in New York took Monet’s Water Lilies, which had enjoyed its own gallery in the old museum, and deposited it in its cavernous new atrium, where from a distance it looked like a mailbox slot. It’s since been moved to its own space upstairs.

Museums seem to be resistant to isolating works in this way. I suspect that curators resist “privileging” one work too greatly above another, and in any event they like to have works talking to one another across galleries. I do too, but I also prefer sometimes to have them talking just to me.

You can read more about the new Miami Art Museum design here.

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