The art institutions of the near future may very well be the agents of a green curatorial revolution. With White Cube, Green Maze: New Art Landscapes, the Heinz Architectural Center at the Carnegie Museum of Art seeks to capture this emerging zeitgeist by documenting six museum sites across four continents. These sites, documented through small-scale mock-ups, video, and immpecable photographs by renowned architectural photographer Iwan Baan, blur the line between architecture and landscape. In doing so, they eschew the contemporary sensibility of white, cubic gallery spaces, preventing artworks from being viewed in a sterilized context separate from the outside world.
The show asserts that sustainable architecture can break down and transform existing membranes between the public, the environment, and art institutions. For example, The Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, Washington has pedestrian paths that cross the city’s transportation routes to the sea – partially built on what was once a contaminated Unocal fuel yard. In another example of reclamation, the Stiftung Insel Hombroich Museum of Neuss-Holzheim, Germany has reappropriated an obsolete NATO rocket base. Meanwhile, the rounded structure of the Tashima Art Museum, in Naoshima, Japan, has two apertures on its roof that mix the imagery of nature and structure. The models that depict all of these, while immaculately crafted in wood and plastic, exude a certain clinical detachment in their scale. The dense documentation of the sites through wall texts and touch-screen displays is essential for context but does little to reduce this.
Iwan Baan’s photography provides a truncated sense of what it is like to actually stand at each site, which does aid in dispelling the impersonal atmosphere somewhat. Baan captures architecture as a stage for the activity of people, often lending his images an unorthodox impression of movement. Take one photograph of the interior of the Adriana Varejao Gallery at the Instituto Inhotim in Brazil. In the foreground stand the crumbling remains of a tiled wall. Further back, a concrete floor gives way to a wall of windows. Making a diagonal across them is a lone visitor climbing stairs, framed against the botanical park outside.
Despite Baan’s considerable efforts, White Cube, Green Maze cannot convey the direct, visceral experience of travelling to any of these museums without walls. These are places whose purpose is to bring artworks into the public eye, but these artworks cannot be experienced by the viewer in proper fashion. In a way the show is acting partially as advertisement, encouraging visitors to roam these sites in person in order to absorb what documentation of architecture cannot grant alone. Part of the problem may be that Pittsburgh has no “green mazes” of its own which viewers can draw on– the gallery space in which contains the exhibition is itself an architecture that isolates its contents from the outside environment. Considering the city’s industrial history, the creation of such a museum may be long overdue. In this way, the show’s limitations serve to highlight essential questions concerning future developments of art architecture everywhere.