By ANN ROSENBERG
Where, Oh Where, has the Art Palace Gone?
The Greeks and the Romans originated public art display and also provided architectural prototypes for the gallery that have come down, almost unchanged, to the present.
The temple-fronts of the Athenian Parthenon and the Roman Pantheon, when extended by wings on either side, become suitable models for law and government buildings, royal and presidential palaces and large art museums.
Buckingham Palace in London is a well-known case in point. It was the residence of the Dukes of Buckingham until becoming the English monarchys principle London dwelling in 1830. The Royal Collection, which is now available for public viewing, is housed there.
The Louvre (which was the home of King Louis the 14th in Paris before he moved his court to Versailles) became a public art and artefact venue in 1793, and unlike Buckingham Palace, has been transformed over time. The French Renaissance back of the Louvre, which opens onto a huge courtyard was the entry, until I.M. Peis 1989 glass pyramid entrance positioned at the centre of the plaza, surplanted it. The pyramid provides dramatic access to the entire museum and to new, below-ground galleries. This dramatic structure was the first of many attention-grabbing, unprecedented art gallery concepts that have become highly successful tourist magnets in recent years.
Several of these influential models are galleries that were built from scratch. The Centre Georges Pompidou (1971-7), designed by a consortium of architects in response to ideas contained in Cedric Prices Fun Palace, boasts an exterior composed of glass-covered metal scaffolding that contains the pipes and ducts for the structures essential mechanics. This turned-inside-out edifice houses Frances Museum of Modern Art on its fourth floor. Frank Gehrys indescribably outré (1998-1999) Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is, in its own right, an original work of sculpture.
Two civic galleries that Preview covers have expanded beyond the capacities of their Deco art palaces. The Portland Art Museum extended one of its facades but kept most of the original structure. Boston architect Ann Behas addition makes no aesthetic allusion to the style of the PAM and is Portlands Center for Modern and Contemporary Art.
The Seattle Art Museum took a different tack. Its famous holdings of Asian Art remain in the old building in Volunteer Park. In 1991 a new building designed by Robert Venturi for its collection of contemporary art was built downtown. Having grown out of that space, SAM has joined with Western Washington Mutual to create a mixed-use project on their jointly owned Union Street land parcel next door to the Venturi building. The Post-modern structure designed by Brad Cloepfil of Portlands Allied Works Architecture opens onto First Avenue. The subtle curving façade and mullioned windows in its entry echo features of the original art palace.
In Canada, we await the 2007opening of Frank Gehrys block-long extension to the Art Gallery of Ontario increasing its capacity to 486,000 square feet. At the Royal Ontario Museum a huge prismatic, glass structure appears to have fallen from the sky to cover the 1910 courtyard of a rather boring building. The Crystal (designed by Daniel Libeskind which recently won the World Trade Centre Competition) will be finished in 2007
The new Vancouver Art Gallery had a previous life as the 1912 Courthouse designed by Frances Mawson Rattenbury. Arthur C. Erickson Architects transformed it, in 1983, into an art palace that from the Robson Street side bears a resemblance to Buckingham Palaces Main Entrance. Rumour has it that the VAG must soon find additional space. Is it possible to do a renovation like I.M. Peis Pyramid in Robson Square?
Elsewhere in Canada, the new Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton is being designed by former Frank Gehry associate Randall Stout. The very tactile maquette presages an exciting art facility for this important and growing western city.
Although Im sorry to say goodbye to the tried and true art palace, the recently conceived facilities and the display of art and artefacts are dynamic civic amenities.
Ann Rosenberg is a freelance curator, critic and author.