Articulating Museum Spaces

Every picture benefits from a good frame, and that principle also applies to museum installations. Three current exhibitions in LACMA’s Resnick Gallery reveal the sweep of Renzo Piano’s skylit expanse while enhancing the special qualities of old master paintings, minimalist sculpture, and colorful ceramics. The square space, walled in glass and white plaster, has been divided into three long rectangles. To the west, Frederick Fisher and Partners have inserted L-plan dividers, stippled in yellow ochre, to create semi-enclosed galleries for the display of gold-framed paintings by Caravaggio and his contemporaries. Benches of stacked felt punctuate the sequence and encourage visitors to linger and soak up the spirit of these theatrical canvases.  A central axis extends from a ghostly image of Caravaggio at the entry to Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass beyond the glass wall at the far end, as though the artist were gazing out at this natural form.
Turn the corner and you find the entire central space is occupied by Water de Maria’s The 2000 Sculpture, a seried array of faceted white blocks arranged in a herringbone pattern. The repeated zig-zag rows extend back to the entry façade and a framed view of BCAM’s red steel staircase. The east side is devoted to a retrospective of the late Ken Price, a virtuoso ceramicist whose work ranges from whimsical tea cups to massive coiled forms in a dazzling palette of soft and vibrant colors. Frank Gehry loves Price’s work and has set it off within a sequence of rotated white cubes that rise to the ceiling and are cut away to frame and enclose key exhibits. Projecting hoods conceal down lighting and extend the cubes into the central axis, mirroring Fisher’s looser enclosures. Most visitors will focus on the artworks, as they should, for these structures are not meant to draw attention to themselves. Architects will appreciate the spatial contrast between the open volume at the center and the articulation of those to either side, and the way these scaling devices intensify your experience of the art.

 

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