Has time passed us by…?

A few weeks back, Nicolai Ouroussoff, architectural critic for The New York Times, officially called an end to our recent explosion of new art museums, concert halls, and performing arts centers – an extraordinary decade that he compares to the City Beautiful Movement of the late 19th century (An American Architectural Epoch Locks Its Doors, 10/24). Ouroussoff used the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, by Frank Gehry, to illustrate the former, and the Beaux-Arts extravaganza of Chicago’s World’s Fair of 1893 for the latter. Dallas, Denver, Miami, Chicago, and even Milwaukee were mentioned, sometimes favorably, sometimes not, but Baltimore gets no mention at all.

No question, we would have been there a century ago. Baltimore was then rising from the devastating fire of February, 1904 to become one of America’s truly exciting architectural cities: MICA’s award-winning Main Building, atop Mount Royal Avenue, by the New York firm of Pell & Corbett, was dedicated in November 1908, the Walters, by the New York firm of Aldrich and Delano, opened three months later, and Penn Station, by Kenneth MacKenzie Murchison, also of New York, was just two years off.

What happend?  Is it simply that we’ve slipped from being one of the largest cities in the country to somewhere around #20?  That we’ve lost our corporate headquarters? Is it that Baltimore just doesn’t have the money?

Or is it the will? And the imagination?Borofsky

MICA’s Brown Center, just opposite the 1908  Main Building, by Charles Brickbauer and  Ziger/Snead, from right here in Baltimore  –  is a triumph, and by the standards of the  Disney Concert Hall, a real bargain!

So it can happen.

But maybe we’re just victims of our own past. Our continuing inability to come to terms with Borofsky’s Male/Female in front of our beloved 100-year-old train station suggests to me that it’s true.

But what do you think?

3 thoughts on “Has time passed us by…?”

  1. It might be true that the boom years are over for new building projects dedicated to the arts. I agree with most of Ouroussoff’s comments, but it might be more fruitful to ask how well the existing institutions are fulfilling their missions.

    Do museums exist to convey knowledge to the public or simply to display rare objects? I’d guess that most curators would say the former, but in the majority of museums, the format is still: object + wall text, object + wall text. Concert halls and performing arts centers are great, but only if their events draw audiences. The usual response is to either cling to the classics or broaden the programming to include popular works, but neither approach seems effective. Do we need new buildings or a new way of approaching these problems?

  2. Josh, what you say makes sense. It’s all about Mission. As for education vs display, there is another angle, which I take (implicitly) in my other posted blog (Beauty and the Brain); namely, that our work in museums (as in concert halls) is to provide an aesthetic experience. You can’t get that from the internet or books, or in the classroom. Enjoyment, discovery, and learning flow from that.

    After all, artist and composers were not/are not teachers, museums and concert halls are not classrooms, and in them, we’re not pupils.

    Gary Vikan

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