Museum as the Cathedral of the 21st Century | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 07.04.2006
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Culture

Museum as the Cathedral of the 21st Century

A museum of contemporary art in the German city of Düsseldorf has been chosen as the first stop of a traveling exhibition which explores the fascinating development of museum architecture in the 21st century.

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The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao was designed by American architect Frank Gehry

An exhibition called "Museums in the 21st Century: Concepts, Projects, Buildings," which opened on Apr. 1 at the NRW/K20 Kustsammlung in the German city of Düsseldorf, explores the ways in which the museum -- a traditionally conservative cultural institution -- has been transformed into a striking urban landmark and an exciting playground for architectural experiment.

The sinuous stone, glass, and titanium curves of Frank O. Gerhy's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, for example, or the physical and metaphoric void which cuts across Daniel Liebeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin, have shown that museum buildings are increasingly becoming symbols of urban identity.

The Düsseldorf exhibition showcases 26 impressive and forward-looking museum designs in different stages of architectural production: as models, as constructions sites or as completed buildings.

Experimental museums

Daniel Libeskind, Jüdisches Museum Berlin

Daniel Liebeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin

Architects whose work is featured in the exhibition include architectural megastars such as Daniel Liebeskind, Frank O. Gehry, Renzo Piano or the US-Austrian studio Coop Himmelb(l)au. Their work is documented through models, computer simulations, sketches and installations.

With museums that look like anchored ships and those that are buried in the ground, or the ones that resemble gigantic aluminum tubes, the exhibition illustrates the ways in which museums have become places of experiment with form and meaning in architecture and society at large.

The museums of the 21st century have very little in common with the heavy structures of the 19th century, whose goal was to inspire awe and provide a sense of cultural stability. The museums of the future are much more fluid and playful. In a true postmodern fashion, their visually striking forms often accentuate a society in transition or crisis of values.

Urban landmarks

Berliner Museumsinsel - Alte Nationalgalerie

A relic from the past: the Old National Gallery in Berlin

Unlike traditional museums, which were attracting visitors mainly because of the art works which were displayed in them, contemporary museums have become objects of interest on their own.

The popularity of contemporary museums has a lot to do with the fact that these spectacular buildings have taken on the prominent architectural role which was once reserved for cathedrals in various European cityscapes. But also, as Armin Zweite, director of the Düsseldorf exhibition space K20 points out, they have become symbols of progressive thinking.

"Cities and states have started building new museums not necessarily in order to host grand collections, but rather to set a signal," said Zweite. The Düsseldorf exhibition will be open until June 25th.

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