Monday, June 29, 2015

Frank Gehry’s subtle context: Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum

Frank Gehry’s first U.S. museum design “from the ground up”(1) was the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum. The museum, which opened in 1993, is located at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis on the bank of the Mississippi River. The view above is from the Washington Avenue Bridge and displays the reflections from the environment while the full sun at noontime glistens off the curved stainless steel panels. Photography by versluis ©2015.

This is a photograph of one of the unconventional gallery spaces in the Weisman, indicating a mixture of natural and artificial light emanating from high ceilings.

The following is an interview with Frank Gehry by Barbara Isenberg in which Gehry discusses his design considerations of interior spaces for the presentations of artworks.

BI: How does the space affect the art in museum galleries?

FG: In the beginning there’s a space. Then you decide what to put in it. The space should have a persona when you walk into it. It doesn't have to, but it would be better if it does. There’s an emotional something that happens, whether you like it or hate it. Then you can hang the art, which brings in a whole set of criteria, but it is always the space as midwife to the art and viewer. It becomes the connector between the art and the viewer.

The space can either enhance the experience or run counter to it. The assumption is you’re going to hang the art in a way that people can see it at the proper height and so on, and that you’re going to light it properly. In any case, whether it’s in the bathroom, the dining room, or the Shrine Auditorium, whoever hangs the art is going to put it in a place so you can see it, and they’ll light it so you can see it. My premise is that as long as you’re making beautiful spaces, and as long as you address the technical issues, they can coexist and complement each other. The space can be an added enhancement to the experience. The most important thing is to break down the barrier between the person looking and what that person is looking at.

Bl: So you see the space as more of an enhancement than prime mover here?

FG: It’s ephemeral. It is sort of up for grabs. There are seven million possible solutions and no one is right. That’s what I like about it. (2)
  1. Isenberg, Barbara. Conversations with Frank Gehry. first ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. 86. Print.
  2. Ibid. 97-99.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Integral structures found in nature

Weathered Birch bark found at Itasca State Park, Minnesota
photograph by versluis ©2015

This photographic close-up shows the decomposition of the thin Birch bark surface which has formed holes to let natural light in and become ornamental voids. The details suggest the functional and aesthetic philosophy of architect Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) who found how the grammar of “natural and organic forms no longer simply comprise[d] a kind of ornament superimposed on the building but [can] go on to constitute essential structural elements” of architecture. (1)

  1. Cirici-Pellicer, Alexandre. “Gaudì.” Encyclopedia of Modern Architecture. Ed. Gerd Hatje. 1964. 119-22. Print.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Vernacular OldType in Grand Marais

Bally’s Blacksmith Shop (built ca.1911), Grand Marais, Minnesota.
This close-up photo features the early signage (perhaps original) on the side of the building. The structure is undergoing renovation as a historical site. Photograph by versluis ©2015.

Perhaps the letterforms in this particular sign were generated by a self-taught sign painter, but the type fitting, letter spacing and classic layout on clapboards is especially interesting. The sign painter expresses ingenuity through the combination of condensed with regular and extended type styles in order to copy-fit the text within the space.

Writer Meredith Davis in her book Graphic Design Theory mentions that:

The often hand-generated and "crudely" designed vernacular faces were in stark contrast to the typographic precision and refinement of late modernism. They recalled the history of communication, distinctions of social class and settings, and associations with how and for whom they were produced. (1)
  1. Davis, Meredith. Graphic Design Theory. New York: Thames & Hudson Inc., 2012. 120-21. Print.

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