The Politics of Display— Architects and Museums: John Yeon, A. James Speyer, and Lina Bo Bardi
McVay, Melinda Roxanne
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The selection, placement, grouping, chromatic selection, and lighting of works of art have an effect on the transmission of art historical and critical knowledge that is, in certain ways, equal to that of labels and other forms of verbal information. Displays of art transform a culture's relationship to art, providing a lens through which interpretation can be evaluated. This study aims to understand installations in art museums by challenging the idea that they are neutral and by examining in a select group of case studies ways in which professionally trained architects have imparted new energy and ideas to art museums through museum displays that they designed and the cultural politics expressed through their installations. By examining three architects, each of whom had different training and cultural-architectural contexts, this dissertation will examine how their work is different than those from various other traditions of museum installation. The focus will be the installation practices of: John Yeon, A. James Speyer, and Lina Bo Bardi. These three figures were chosen because each produced a significant body of well-documented museum installations in their architectural careers. Although John Yeon's fascination with Asian Art and with nature is analogous with Frank Lloyd Wright's, he maintained a distinctive Pacific Northwest style separate from the prairie style of Wright. A. James Speyer's aesthetics echoed Mies van der Rohe, his mentor. Like Mies, he worked with open spaces and unadulterated materials, but his style was inimitably his own. Bo Bardi, too, adhered to the modernist dictates and worked with vast open spaces, but with a didactic intent. Her anarcho-communist politics were embedded in her museum work. While Yeon and Speyer were wealthy architect-collectors who made installations that suggest private luxury, Bo Bardi's work was highly politicized. Her audience was not connoisseurs, but “the people.” Examining Yeon’s environomental interests, Speyer’s adherence to the International Style, and Bo Bardi’s Italian and Brazilian political interests, helps understand how the installation designer’s touch is apparent in his or her installation designs.