Well the Missus and I trundled over to Cambridge the other day for a preview of the newly renovated/reinvigorated Harvard Art Museums (Fogg Museum+Arthur M. Sackler Museum+Busch-Reisinger Museum under one – controversial! – roof) and, say, it was swell.
First, the controversy.
The museum stands just outside Harvard Yard, the group of quadrangles composing the historic core of the university founded in 1636. Looking from the Yard toward [starchitect Renzo] Piano’s renovated building, one can clearly see a modern glass pyramid rising from behind the Fogg’s traditional brick front. The crystalline peak signals the museum’s openness to the new, topping the central courtyard and allowing natural light to reach much of interior.
Right next door stands the bold gray Carpenter Center, looking like “two elephants copulating,” according to an often-repeated Harvard jab. When Le Corbusier’s building opened in 1963, New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable wrote that it “violates the street and scandalizes the neighborhood” but “manages to make everything around it look stolid and stale.”
Uh-huh. Turns out the copulating has turned to violating.
Now—and somewhat ironically—Piano’s structure is causing its own, more muted scandal, with some architectural experts voicing indignation that the revamped Fogg pays insufficient deference to Le Corbusier’s legacy. There’s particular ire over Piano’s link with a celebrated ramp of curving concrete that Le Corbusier designed to intersect and draw visitors into his building. Piano has extended the northeastern end of the ramp with a gray granite-encased segment so that it connects the Carpenter Center with the art-museum complex. Thus, Piano and Le Corbusier’s designs directly abut each other in a manner that has set architectural feathers flying.
“This was a crime against humanity,” says Princeton University architectural historian Beatriz Colomina—not known for understatement—about Piano’s treatment of Le Corbusier’s structure. “It’s such a mythical building and it is being destroyed by somebody who is a good architect. ”
A crime against humanity? Really? Get a grip, Beatriz.
For plebes like us, the new consolidated museum looks great.
In addition to all our favorites from the Fogg and the Busch-Reisinger, the museum features new exhibits like Mark Rothko’s Harvard Murals.
This new presentation of Mark Rothko’s Harvard Murals features innovative, noninvasive digital projection as a conservation approach. The exhibition returns this mural series to public view and scholarship while also encouraging study and debate of the technology.
The technique employs a camera-projector system that includes custom-made software developed and applied by a team of art historians, conservation scientists, conservators, and scientists at the Harvard Art Museums and the MIT Media Lab. The digital projection technology restores the appearance of the murals’ original rich colors, which had faded while on display in the 1960s and ’70s in a penthouse dining room of Harvard University’s Holyoke Center (now the Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center), the space for which they were commissioned. Deemed unsuitable for exhibition, the murals entered storage in 1979 and since then have rarely been seen by the public.
But now they can be.
The new museum opens to the public this Sunday. Get there whenever you can.