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I have been amiss, becaused of my alleged vacation, in not responding to two comments on my article on developments at Ground Zero. First, there is a clarification from the critic Judith Dobrzynski (whom I quoted in my piece):


“Let's get this right: I did NOT quote Davis Brody's "pablum" as a reason that Steven Davis should talk with Meier and Libeskind. I DID use his statement about the exhibits reigning over the building as a reason for the conversation.
I also stated, right at the top, that I was not familiar with Davis and I used the conditional that he "seems" to be different.
I disagree with your statement that museums are not about art: maybe not all museums are, but art museums are -- and when in conflict art should take precedence over the building's architecture. That does not imply they have to be in conflict.”


Let me clarify in turn. Of course art museums are “about” art, but only as a place to store and show them. What I wanted to make clear is that they are about bringing people and art together, something that curators often forget in their desire to keep the objects as safe as possible. I find the fetishism of “art” without its public raison d’être dangerous. Art museums are public buildings (or semi-public) that are not bank vaults, though some private collectors might think of them as such. They are also not amusement rides. At their best, they use the depictions and representations they house to hold up a mirror to our culture and our existence, offer a chance for communal discussion as well as contemplation that might be revelatory. Art museums as buildings house art and make it possible for it to remain safe and and be seen; art museums as architecture are ways of framing, sequencing, shaping, enabling and, very occasionally, being part of the activity proper to an art museum.


It brings to mind the experience of the Venice Biennale, to which I will return shortly. There were many interesting exhibitions there, but the ones that worked best for me were indeed exhibitions, such as the Belgian or Canadian Pavilions and not, like OMA’s screed on preservation meted out on posters hanging like drying laundry in an exhibition hall, misshaped books or magazines.


The issue of display is also the subject of a reply from Davis Brody Bond Aedas, who first sets the issue straight on the firm:


“Davis Brody Bond Aedas is not owned, wholly or partially, by Aedas.  We have been strategically aligned with Aedas since 2006, allowing us to expand and strengthen our services for existing clients and practice areas as well as broaden our geographic reach to both developed and emerging markets. Davis Brody Bond Aedas continues to operate as an independent entity with our own profit center and management.  There was no merger or acquisition by either party.”


I apologize, my mistake.


“Additionally, the firm is responsible for the design of the below grade museum which encompasses much more than simply the slurry wall, as Mr. Betsky stated in his article.  The museum encompasses the visitor experience throughout 120,000 square feet of space which preserves and displays the physical remains of the site of the twin towers, houses important artifacts from the period of recovery and is the place that tells the stories of all those who experienced the events of the day. These diverse charges are presented to the visitor as a sequence of experiences which allow for individual and personal encounters within an overall context of a historical narrative. Our design for the museum has been conceived to exist in harmony with both the memorial plaza at street level, for which we serve as associate architect, and the entry pavilion, which begins the visitors' descent down the ramped procession of the museum below grade.”


Exactly. The slurry wall is the big attraction, the rest of the “museum” is a pre-ride that, from the perspective of the museum’s originators, helps you understand what you are about to see and, I believe, from the perspective of the viewers will be stuff to get through on their way to that main event. I do indeed hope that it will “allow for individual and personal encounters with an overall context of a historical narrative,” if that means that somehow the designers will show, exhibit, and make you aware of, larger issues through concrete artifacts and experiences, which is what a museum should do.  


I hope and trust that means it will not turn into something such as the Holocaust Memorial and its “cry here, sigh there, learn now” Disneyfication of history. Given the history of Ground Zero, that would be a miracle.




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About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.