Nowhere is the connection between art and design more prominent than in the architecture of art museums. The idea of the museum as a secular shrine that attracts art pilgrims is the ethos that justifies the investment of huge sums of money and the creative talent of the top architects in the world.
This week Tel-Aviv joins New, York, London, Rome, Paris, Bilbao and other major western cities with the opening of the new wing of the Tel-Aviv Museum of art. This impressive building, designed by Preston Scott Cohen, wishes to claim its position alongside a growing list of iconic art museums.
What a journey since Guggenheim (and Dizengoff – the first mayor of Tel-Aviv) exhibited their art collections in their living rooms…. Guggenheim approached Frank Lloyd Wright in the forties and asked him to design a home for his expanding collection and thus, the first iconic art shrine was created. Since then, the relationship between high architecture and high art has strengthened to the point where it is unclear if people come to the museum for the building or for the art.
Bilbao, a once sleepy Spanish town has become a major tourist attraction since the opening of the Guggenheim museum designed by Frank Gehry. Tate modern, once a power station is Britains’ second popular attraction, now expanding with a new wing by Herzog & de Meuron. Rome’s MAXXI by Zaha Hadid, New York’s New Museum by award winners Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa are just a few examples of iconic museum architecture.
The tension between form and content in the case of the Tel-Aviv museum causes much public debate regarding the justification of such a grand building. Artists demonstrated outside the museum on the grand opening night, protesting against the gap between the cutbacks in art education and lack of rights for artists on the one hand and the conspicuous building that Tel-Aviv is about to use as a leverage to the city as an international culture center but impressive architecture is not enough. On the occasion of the MAXXI opening in Rome, Zaha Hadid was quoted to say that good art cannot be exhibited in a mediocre building. I would say that mediocre art should not be shown in an exceptional building. Therefore, the new Tel-Aviv secular shrine should now invest its utmost in making the best shows possible to create harmony between form and content.