Masters of the White Box Draw Inspiration from the Past

Event: The 4th Annual Arthur Rosenblatt Memorial Lecture for Excellence in Museum Design, Richard Gluckman on Content Context=Concept
Location: Center for Architecture, 01.12.11
Speaker: Richard Gluckman, FAIA — Principal, Gluckman Mayner Architects
Organizer: AIANY Cultural Facilities Committee

The Mori Arts Center in Tokyo.

Courtesy Gluckman Mayner Architects

Richard Gluckman, FAIA, principal of Gluckman Mayner Architects, has been designing spaces to showcase art for more than 30 years. He believes that it is harder to design a museum to accommodate general, rotating exhibitions than one intended to house work by a specific artist or genre. “There is the myth of flexibility,” he explained. “You can tailor the aspects of space, but the fewer options people have, the happier they are.” Though Gluckman Mayner is known as a “master of the white box,” inspiration also comes from a traditional source — the Caravaggio-lined Cerasi Chapel in Rome. Gluckman marvels at the energy and connection between viewer, art, and space, an effect he endeavors to recreate in his own designs for both gallery interiors and new museum buildings.

The work on display at the many notable galleries Gluckman Mayner has designed can be “defined by architectural terms. The art itself provides parameters in some cases, also,” Gluckman said. For example, a large operable door and column-free spans accommodated sculptures by Richard Serra in the Gagosian Gallery. For Serra’s studio in Queens, Gluckman noted that the design was a case of the “place of production mimicking the place of presentation.”

Inventive uses of practical materials and a complimentary approach to context characterize Gluckman Mayner’s designs for new museums and additions. For the Museo Picasso in Malaga, Spain, the firm restored a 16th-century palace, inserting six modern buildings into its dense fabric. Their stark, white plaster surfaces differentiate them from the traditional, buff-colored buildings, yet their texture and mass recall the region’s 1,000-year-old masonry traditions. Gluckman’s interest in masonry, particularly affordable pre-cast units, intensified with a design for the Austin Museum of Art and the renovation and expansion of the Perelman Building at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Currently on the boards are two new museums in China — the Zhejiang University Museum of Art and Archeology in Hangzhou, and the Qibao Cultural Museum in the Minhang District of Shanghai. Both designs draw inspiration from traditional Chinese architecture while establishing frames for art as well as the landscape. Gluckman Mayner’s designs ensure that viewing art is anything but a neutral experience.