Saturday, January 14, 2012

Renzo Piano and the Gardner Museum

Italians don't always do it better.

Renzo Piano is a world-famous and hyper-successful architect from Genoa. He is perhaps best known (along with Richard Rogers) for the Beaubourg building in Paris. When I was there in 1990, I asked a Frenchman where it was. With a twinkle in his eye, he pointed and answered: "C'est cette grande usine la'." It's that big factory there. 'nuff said.

Fast forward three and a half decades from the construction of the factory in Paris in 1977.

Renzo Piano completes the addition to Boston's distinguished Isabella Stewart Gardner museum, to the tune of 118 million smackeroonies. This project was approved under director Anne Hawley, under whose watch (so to speak) a Vermeer, a Rembrandt and other irreplaceable stuff disappeared from the Gardner. If you only realized how much I love Dutch art and Vermeer in particular, you would understand that I already resent this Hawley person. It wasn't the best Vermeer, but still.

So they approved Renzo's project, which will basically house functions and objects not originally part of Isabella's home museum. It is indeed a home museum, like Milan's Poldi Pezzoli (which partly inspired Gardner). What we have now in the new wing is a glass box that could be anywhere (just like a mall or a chain store). In the process, they tore down Gardner's original carriage house and greenhouse.

The Italian daily La Repubblica rather triumphantly reported this in a fatuous article/interview called "I'm bringing Italy to Boston." Give me a break. The Italian presence has already been strong in Boston for a century, and American Isabella Stewart Gardner did infinitely more to enhance this presence than Renzo Piano ever could.

The glass box opens to the public on January 19th.

(In the photo- a new university library in the Midwest? A neuroscience research center in Holland? An office building in Abu Dhabi? No, it's Italy in Boston.)