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Pleasure Palaces
Finding Flexibility in Contemporary Art Museums
Lecture by Wouter Davidts
March 6, 2003

Thursday, March 6, 2003 at 6 pm in the Gallery
in English (with a question period in both French and English)

Designs of contemporary art museums signal a programmatic shift from static repository to dynamic workshop spaces. The museum aspires to be up to date with recent trends, and expects its architecture to do the same: to house the ever-changing and unpredictable demands of the contemporary art world, where space and flexibility are one.

The lecture by Wouter Davidts will highlight architectural responses to this institutional call for flexibility. It will demonstrate how the Centre Pompidou (Piano & Rogers, 1972-77), considered as the ultimate paradigm of flexible design, can be translated into a combination of architectural forces. On the one hand, a well serviced structure, such as the Fun Palace (Cedric Price, 1961) revealing programmatic flexibility. On the other hand, an empty container, such as the Neue Nationalgalerie (Mies van der Rohe, 1962-68), that offers spatial flexibility.

The Centre Pompidou promised to deliver both the flexibility of a machine and that of an empty box. This controversial design can therefore be considered a prime example of late-modern typology of isotropic space. The presentation will not only question the isotropic space as a valid answer to the institutional demand for flexibility, but will also raise the problematic character of the demand itself.

Finally the lecture will focus on the Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts, and explore how the Liane and Danny Taran Gallery fits within this chronicle. The Gallery is not only dedicated to the development and presentation of innovative contemporary art exhibitions, but most of all is situated within a building structure that highly resembles Mies’ Neue Nationalgalerie. Originally designed by Phyllis Lambert as an homage to Mies van der Rohe, it echoes the large, empty spaces of pleasure palaces.

Wouter Davidts is a scholar at the Department of Architecture and Urban Planning, Ghent University in Belgium, where he’s finishing a PhD about museum architecture. His research focuses on the relationship between art, architecture and the museum and he has regularly published about the topic in the art magazine De Witte Raaf.