May 16, 2014

Art and Architecture @ The Lyon Housemuseum

I went to this talk last Sunday, for an artist the opportunity to hear architects discussing the role of architecture in displaying art was a first for me, and I did get a few surprises, learned a great deal and came away with my head buzzing.

How do we condense the content of this event into a few words in a blog? As it happens quite easily, "neutral container" was rather disparagingly translated to "White Cube" which when uttered was usually expressed with an air of boredom. Whilst "active participant" was delivered with some commitment and excitement, clearly this concept was much more interesting to the architects and basically means a building that it is a full expression of the architect as artist. I'm old enough to remember being taught the history of art when it included architecture and have always believed it to be the most influential art. After all - architects make the spaces in which we live, work, relax and exhibit our art.

And of course no talk like this these days could ever omit mention of "starchitects" or Zaha Hadid herself, more wonky walls than you could poke a stick at all justified by the success of buildings as a magnet for tourists and generator of collateral income, thus highlighting the major dilemma for the cities and institutions that propose new art gallery spaces but get seduced into funding these "bugger-the-art just look at the building" examples.

The concept of architecture as art was taken to the most extreme level in this talk not by an architect but by Jason Smith, Heidi Museum of Modern Art, Director, who very enthusiastically announced that he saw a great deal of merit in the idea of exhibiting no art in one building in his gallery complex and letting the building itself be the "art" on view (which was never the intention of the building in the first place). Incidentally there was virtually no discussion or acknowledgement that maybe artists themselves may have views and valid opinions on the spaces in which their work will be exhibited!

Of particular interest to me was the Lyon Housemuseum and the explanations of its founder Corbett Lyon, I too have something that could be called a "house museum" though it has never occurred to me to call it that before. It is architecturally significant, heritage listed and does impose itself quite markedly on any art that is exhibited in or around it. Lyon Housemuseum - 

I even have the insane Guggenheim sloping floor at the Cowwarr Art Space! a sculptor's nightmare and somewhat of a challenge for any art! Not with standing this I consider it a sort of blank canvas in which we can attempt to create ways to make art live. 

The heritage architects describe the Cowwarr Art Space (a recycled 1918 butter factory) as a Federation Arts and Crafts style building, and pointed out that this was a high minded socialist architectural movement that, in terms of industrial building, set out to create "beautiful" spaces that would encourage people to feel like working hard!!!The quality of the spaces are exactly what our visitors respond to most.

Now all this gives us a real clue to the development of a good and trusting relationship between art, architects and art gallery/museum architecture. Clearly the answer lies neither with the "white cube" nor the "active participant" approaches but possibly in a thoroughly sympathetic melding of both by embracing the idea that an architect could muster the skill, poetry and care for humanity to create spaces that actually encourage people to love art and the total art gallery experience. Architects win, curators win, artists are relieved and the general public audience win too. Nice I reckon.

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