PaperPlane | July 5th, 2008
Modern art museums are meant to be in the centre of town, right? A saunter over to the Tate Modern, an easy subway ride to MOMA, a short stroll to the Pompidou. Read the map, mark the route, follow the signs…wham bam thank you ma’am.
Contrary to contemporary tourist lore however, some of the world’s most excellent museums, (designed by some of the world’s most renowned architects) exist outside the big smokes – it’s just the journey that’s a little more challenging. When Knud W. Jensen opened Denmark’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in 1958 he was criticised for its distance from the city’s capital, Copenhagen. The museum has now become an essential diversion for visitors to the city. And when Donald Judd purchased an old army barracks in the remote town of Marfa, Texas, to set up the Chinati foundation he simply wanted a remote place for he and his friends to indulge their – it’s now a mecca for minimalist art fans worldwide.
So embrace inconvenience! Get a bigger map, go off-road and make like a day-tripper because this is one detour you don’t want to miss.
LOUISIANA MUSEUM OF MODERN ART
Pedal your little heart out around Copenhagen but ditch the bicycle for the 35km journey to Humlebæk – hometown of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Crank up the mix tape for the scenic coastal journey but take heed: Louisiana is unsigned and totally off the beaten track.
Situated on private parkland north of Denmark, Louisiana overlooks The Sound (the straight separating Denmark from southern Sweden) on the Danish Archipelago. Named after the original landowners collective wives - all 3 of them, all named Louise - Louisiana’s setting on the Danish Riviera (who knew?) is enough to render any Lars or Fredrich speechless.
With its ancient trees, sculpture gardens, secluded ravines, wooded knolls and sailboats scattered over scenic ocean views, it’s the kind of enchanted forest you could imagine Hans Christian Andersen hanging out in. At this Scandinavian treasure even the flora is tall and attractive.
The inconspicuous path leading to the entrance belies the spellbinding world within; an environment where art, architecture and landscape coalesce. Forget the staid museum dogma of ‘look don’t touch’ for at Louisiana it’s interactive all the way. Catch a concert on the lawn, roam the sculpture park, trawl through the estate’s structures, picnic on the grass with a view across the sea to Sweden or explore the permanent twentieth century Danish collections and ever-changing international exhibitions.
NITEROI CONTEMPORARY ART MUSEUM/ MUSEU DE ARTE CONTEMPORANEA (MAC)
Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
With all that South American heat one could be forgiven for thinking that the Niterói Contemporary Art Museum in Brazil is a mirage. Perched on a cliff with views across the water to Rio de Janeiro, Icarí beach and Sugarloaf Mountain, the extraordinary UFO-like spaceship appears on the brink of take-off.
Completed in 1996 by legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer at the ripe old age of 89, the white, saucer-shaped structure is a modernist masterpiece poised on a coastal precipice. Gracefully cantilevering over a pool and encircled by the waters of Guanabara Bay, the museum is balanced atop a cylindrical base accessible to visitors by a curvy, dusty pink ramp.
Don’t be surprised if the building upstages the art. The museum houses contemporary Brazilian works; abstract sculpture, textiles, and painting, but visitors tend to gravitate towards the uninterrupted wall of circumference windows that frame the mesmerising panoramic mountain, city and oceanic views.
Linked by the Rio-Niterói bridge, the museum can be reached from Rio via ferry, followed by a short waterfront taxi drive and a samba up the hill.
In the northeast corner of Spain a guy steals a case loaded with money from a corrupt banker with ties to an international terrorist cell.
Okay, so the guy is James Bond but the point is that this is all taking place in front of another, equally mesmerising scene stealer - the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.
Lets be honest, travelling to Basque country isn’t exactly convenient. Located in the northeast corner of Spain, the fiercely autonomous Basques have their own dialect, culture, and even political violence. Minus the glamour of Barcelona and the traditions celebrated in the south, Basque country may very well be Spain’s third wheel.
So it may come as a surprise that in the regions largest and most unremarkable urban industrial centre of Bilbao, sits an extraordinary architectural beacon of glorious postmodernism and civic pride. Designed by Californian-based architect Frank Gehry, the Guggenheim Bilbao rises up from the Nervion Riverside like a ship setting sail, the organic form sheathed in titanium fish-like scales. The Guggenheim’s glass, limestone and steel-coated futurism breathes life into an otherwise ordinary city littered with steel mills and ship yards.
But architectural pilgrims will be just as delighted with what’s on display: along with a rotating series of excellent exhibitions, the building’s site specific installations by groundbreaking sculptor Richard Serra, Jeff Koons (Puppy), Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya and Spanish artist Pablo Palazuelo are worth the journey alone.
The Lone Star State conjures images of cowboys, dusty highways, cattle ranches, oil tycoons and rodeos. Well it’s time to add world renowned contemporary art museum to the list. For deep in the Chihuahuan desert region of southwest Texas in the Trans-Pecos area, in a little town called Marfa lies The Chinati. Pop the top off the mustang and get down and dusted.
Founded on the site of an old military base by artist Donald Judd in the late 1970s, the Chinati enabled Judd to to fuse his twin passions for art and architecture. He rejected the temporality and portability of art produced in a vacuum, instead championing the process of installation – his vision was a holistic one in which conservation, landscape and art were unified.
The result is a minimalists’ paradise. Stretched north to south along a full kilometre of prairie sits a series of Judd’s own garage-sized concrete rectangles, while Chinati’s sheds, barracks and hangars offer artists literal autonomy. Dan Flavin’s light installation runs over 6 army barracks, Ilya Kabakov’s abandoned Soviet schoolroom occupies an entire building, and Judd’s ‘100 Untitled Works in Mill Aluminum’ inhabit two enormous artillery sheds.
Things really are bigger in Texas.