Encounters: Peter Pakesch, director of the Kunsthaus Graz visits Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, and talks of the few museum spaces that can deal with the interaction of art, architecture and its public, such as the Pompidou Centre and the very influential, almost legendary practice of Archigram. In the year 2000, Archigram architects Peter Cook and Colin Fournier won the competition to design the Kunsthaus Graz.
When I first walked into the Turbine Hall, at the time when it was still a building site, I was overwhelmed by the place. Even in its raw state I thought that this was going to offer a whole new experience for the museum visitor. When I arrived at Tate Modern’s opening in 2000, I was again thrilled by the impact of its immense space. One of the first things to see was Louise Bourgeois’s monumental work Toi et Moi: I Do, I Undo, I Redo – three vast steel towers with staircases that encouraged the spectators to climb up the structures. With her bold use of materials and a distinct sense of architectural space, she blurred the boundaries between the idea of inside and outside and showed how the meaning of a museum space can change. Bourgeois set the pace for a new field of action. The following works in the Turbine Hall – Juan Muñoz’s sculptural installation Double Bind and Anish Kapoor’s giant stretched pvc form Marsyas – were equally impressive in their powers of transformation.
Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project was different again – a radical new interactive museum experience. It was as if it changed, for a moment, the meaning of the museum as we know it. It made me think: what would it be like to install Walter de Maria’s Lightning Field in the comfort of my home? But we can’t physically take Eliasson’s installation home with us. And it doesn’t really relate to the weather either. An astonishing number of people used the work and became part of a complex network of relations that the project generated, which went well beyond the purely theoretical. It could actually be felt.
Since the construction of classical museums, architecture has undergone substantial change, but museum practice has lagged behind. Art, on the other hand, has often been able to react to rapidly shifting parameters. In many instances it has exploded the confines of museums and galleries. Few museum spaces can deal with the interaction of art, architecture and its public. Tate Modern has done this well. Although architects of Modernism have often spoken of the need to address these concerns, such questions have actually been posed far too infrequently. Two exceptions are the Pompidou Centre and the very influential, almost legendary practice of Archigram.
In the year 2000, Archigram architect Peter Cook and Colin Fournier won the competition to design the Kunsthaus in Graz. It is the first important public building that can be attributed directly to Archigram’s ideology. In addition to numerous innovations, the architecture of the museum establishes a radically new relationship to its urban environment. The transparent ground floor, with its combination of functional rooms, offers striking evidence of that concept. Media art laboratory, shop, foyer, restaurant and auditorium intermingle and thereby ensure a steady flow of activities, while the public is drawn into the interior and there acts on an urban stage. We are confronted with a serenely performative exploration of public behaviour. Is this not exactly the same motif that motivated Eliasson’s installation? Is it not fascinating to see how people organise themselves, how they move, how they turn an empty, undefined cavernous structure into a social space and redefine interaction?
To my mind, this is a good sign for the future of museums. Previously, they were defined in terms of preservation – a hermetic approach to the buildings was the norm. They acted as vessels for a cultural heritage. Now museum spaces are moving more towards being arenas for cultural exchange and social experimentation. At the Kunsthaus, this experiment has been reinforced by another innovation. The architects have covered the eastern façade of the building with a skin of fluorescent light tubes that turns the entire surface into an urban display screen. We look forward with curiosity to see how it influences the surroundings, going beyond the confines of museum walls and out into the urban life beyond.