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Art for Sale

- Abstract

If the health of an institution can be gauged by its building activity, then no institution is healthier today than the American museum. In every direction, and no matter which vital statistics one consults, the picture is rosy: billions expended on architecture, millions of cubic feet of new space created, tens of millions of annual visitors to fill up all that space. And then there is the tangible evidence itself, in the travertine acropolis of the new Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the titanium flutter of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, both of which opened in 1997 and thereby launched the current building boom.

The signal having been given, flashy leviathans soon followed in Milwaukee, Fort Worth, San Francisco, and of course New York, where the Museum of Modern Art has set a new standard for self-deprecating opulence. And still they come. Blustering additions will soon transform (among others) the Whitney Museum in New York, the Seattle Art Museum, and the pastoral Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Even the cloistered Barnes Foundation in Pennsylvania has been granted permission by a court to walk away from its suburban site to a new building in central Philadelphia. Today it is a poor museum director indeed whose valise does not contain at least one set of blueprints or schematics.

About the Author

Michael J. Lewis, a frequent contributor, teaches at Williams College. He is the author most recently of American Art and Architecture (Thames & Hudson)