Museums Are Really Hard To Build. So Imagine Having To Do It Twice.


We’re going to come right out balls out and ensure that we never eat lunch in this town again. We didn’t really like Peter Eisenman when we had him in school. We thought we were going to learn about architecture, capital-A, even, but we mostly ended up nursing our hangovers (which we hadn’t planned on but something had to distract us) while listening to endless rounds of Of Grammatology with a little Thousand Plateaus thrown in. You wanted disclosure? We give you full.

So we’ll confess that our instinctual reaction was a swift “heh heh” as soon as we found this article about the “soup-to-nuts” redo of the Columbus Wexner Center. We remember looking at pictures of the building before and thinking that while some of his stuff is conceptually interesting (House VI, obvs) the Wexner Center was an example of theory gone horribly built-ly awry. Seems lots of other people agreed. From this weekend’s NYT story (this one’s still free):

In bestowing its 1993 National Honor Award on the center, the American Institute of Architects’ jury called it “the Lenny Bruce of architecture – bold and brilliant to some and to others irritating and resistant.” The jury added: “It screams at the artists who exhibit and perform within it, pushing them to experiment with their work. It shrieks at visitors, challenging basic assumptions of what architecture should be.”

In reviewing the center’s first show, “Art in Europe and America: The 1950’s and 1960’s,” Michael Kimmelman in The Times called the Wexner “a spectacular failure as a place to see paintings and sculptures.”

He added: “A visitor must constantly decide where displays begin and end, what is the preferred route from one section of the exhibition to another, and where to stand for a decent look at a given work. It would not be a surprise if the building inspired a longing for the logic of a Beaux-Arts plan and its predictable progression of spaces.” Bill Horrigan, the center’s media arts curator, acknowledged that his first experience of the building was disorienting. “I was afraid to walk down the stairs,” he said. “I thought I would fall off.”

OK, so what’s nice about Peter is that he’s–at least occasionally–willing to call bullshit on himself. Robin Pogrebin, who recently discovered that the Lower East Side is a neighborhood with both businesses and architects, asked the architect if he had any regrets about the building’s having to be essentially entirely refurbished.

“Could I have been a better father?” he responded. “Could I have been a better husband, friend, son, brother? These are the things I could have regrets about. But for a building? I don’t think so.”

So at least he’ll take responsibility for his personal failures, if not his professional ones. Something we have to have grudging respect for, having never taken responsibility for anything in our short little lives.

“Architects expect buildings to have faults, like children” Mr. Eisenman mused.

“All in all,” he joked, “I think the Wexner has fewer deficiencies than I do. That’s pretty good.”

Maybe. But it’d be nice to have a higher bar.