Beyond Buildings


Failure to Photoshop: The Adobe Museum

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Credit: Adobe Museum of Art


I believe that architects have so long pursued the possibilities of the computer to create new and fluid forms that they have ignored the other great possibility it offers.  That would be to gather together images, forms and spaces from around the world, edit or alter them, combine them, and use that material to create something that recreates and reforms the existing world. Instead of being mad scientists inventing impossible worlds in which they can still not figure out how to answer simple questions such as how to put in a door in a blob, they could be using the power of Google’s or Bing’s image search, combined with such simple programs as Photoshop to act as hunters and gatherings in a world that already has too much of everything.


Credit: Adobe Museum of Art


It was especially disappointing therefore to fly into the virtual museum Adobe, creator of Photohop, has just launched. The Adobe Museum of Art is exactly one of those impossible “organic” structures, in this case consisting of three intertwined stalks of the sort that first came into wide public view when several architects proposed them in the Ground Zero competition eight years ago. This tripod rises out of a saucer-shaped form floating on intertwined legs. The idea is that you “enter” into the central void, rise up into the saucer for viewing, and then eventually will be able to rise up into the stalks (which, to make them more vegetative, even have asparagus-like leaves) to view what will be the archive. A jellyfish with a camera eye floats around, acting as your guide.


Italian architect Filippo Innocenti has ripped off every digital cliche there is and done nothing with it. An opening animation shows the misshaped object floating in cities from Paris to San Francisco without any connection to those places. You do not approach or move towards the building, but click into it, and then find yourself confronted with the kind of graphic interface that you find in a hotel lobby kiosk or an outdated video game. Click in, and, for the opening exhibition, artist Tony Oursler scribbles a virtual chalkboard full of exhibition titles. Click on those, and you find more ham-fisted animations with his trademark bubbles, which are usually balloons popping up eerily off walls or in corners of rooms, pronouncing koans into space. The jellyfish appears so now and then like one of those pesky guides. Instead of embedded information, there are talking heads telling you what to think of all this.


That is it, at least for now. The designers have not even fulfilled the promise of being able to access a great deal more through electronic means than you can in an art museum. I can only imagine something went wrong in the whole project, as I would expect more from both Rich Silverstein, the advertising executive who envisioned the project, and Adobe, whose infinite riches and technical prowess should allow it to do so much more.  A decade ago, Studio Asymptote envisioned a virtual Guggenheim Museum that was so much more intricate that it makes this project look like a bad student sketch.


Credit. Asymptote Architecture


Credit. Asymptote Architecture


The good news is that, as a virtual museum, it will be just as easy to tear down this abomination as it will be to have it appear: just don’t click on it. I would say stop having this misdirected project take up server space. I wish Adobe would let somebody Photoshop together an art museum. It would not look like an alien, but might recall both museum experiences and other places where we browse of intense experiences, such as shopping malls, clubs, or sports arenas. It would rise out of your computer screen, or out of the cities in which you lived in the way Hollywood can show it can make worlds deform through CGI. It would commission new work, but would also collect a fraction of the incredible wealth and variety of virtual work that is already out there. It would take the logic of the museum, combine it with that of the storage, retrieval, and visualization power of the computer, and give a home to work that embodies imagination truly freed by computer and communication technologies.




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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.