Abu Dhabi, Lens, and Los Angeles: The Avant-Garde Architecture of Three 21st Century Universal Art Museums




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Rooted in the late 18th and 19th century idea of the museum as a “library of past civilizations,” the universal or encyclopedic museum attempts to cover as much of the history of mankind through “art” as possible. The prototypes for this kind of museum are the Louvre, the British Museum, the Hermitage, and the Metropolitan Museum, which are enormous in scale and cover millennia of global cultural production. This dissertation will examine this model of the inclusive art museum in the early twenty-first century—essentially unbounded chronologically and geographically—and study its transformation in newer institutions less tied to national ideologies by analyzing three museums on three continents in buildings designed by three Pritzker prize winning architects. The first museum to be analyzed is a satellite location of the Louvre, located in northeastern France in the city of Lens. Amid criticism that the Grand Louvre inordinately privileges Parisians with all the French art and culture and none for the other areas of France, the Ministry of Culture and the Louvre Directorate initiated a call for proposals, with the one from the city of Lens being selected. The Louvre is not the first museum to decentralize its holdings and use satellite locations, for the trend includes the Tate, the Guggenheim, and the Hermitage, but the location in Lens with a failing economy and no established cultural programs makes the case study intensely instructive and fascinating. The world class Japanese firm SANAA designed the new museum. One of these institutions in a building by Peter Zumthor (LA, to start construction in 2019) was selected because it was planned after the museum had already decided to be “universal” and had selected an architect to design a building that would embody that universality in “modern” terms. This American urban museum does not have a “national” agenda, and its building is NOT rooted in the neo-classical or neo-baroque tradition of the universal museum, thus linking "universality" with "modernity." These two museums will be contrasted with a museum in a part of the world in which the universal art museum is a “European” import—Abu Dhabi. A “branch” of the first great universal museum—the Louvre— the Louvre Abu Dhabi is situated in a massive building by the French architect, Jean Nouvel.



Art museum architecture—Lens (France), Art museum architecture—Abū Ẓaby (United Arab Emirates), Art museum architecture—Los Angeles (Calif.), Art and history, Avant-garde (Aesthetics)



©2019 Leslie Elaine Reid