Sunday, January 17, 2010

Much has been made about the difference between the experience of ascending or descending through a museum's collection. This is typically an urban phenomenon, where vertical movement is one of the only means for an architect or curator to control circulation. Such is true for the Guggenheim, pictured here (from the top and the bottom), the Whitney, the Pompidou and, more recently, the New Museum. For each of these examples, the technology of the conveyance - the escalator or the elevator - becomes a key component of the attraction, an odd mechanical complement to the elegance of the works on display. At the new MoMA, for example, our experience of its collection of 'masterpieces' is veiled by the odor of the escalator's grease, the thump of its treads, the humming of its motor and the general awareness of how many it has herded there before us.

If the diagram of up or down is what we accept as the compelling generator of the museum experience, as dictated by the city and its constraints, and the conveyance is the feature that results as a critical urban necessity - it's curious that there are few equally compelling diagrammatic alternatives. The subtleties of moving up or down certainly evoke an interesting counterpoint, and the Guggenheim is its key proponent. But since when did we stop at this point, and since when the city demand anything so subtle?


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