It may not have been cause and effect, but the 10th anniversary of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao late last year coincided with the opening of several new museums that seem intent on being everything Frank Gehry’s Basque bombshell is not. Let’s call it the rise of the Quiet Museum. Among them is Rafael Moneo’s low-key addition to the Prado, which has earned praise for giving precedence to the works on display rather than upstaging them with architectural bravura. But one man’s deferential is another man’s dull. Art critics seem to like the Moneo wing more than their architectural counterparts, some of whom have deemed the expansion deficient in duende. It’s not that Moneo is incapable of the grand gesture, as proven by his majestic National Museum of Roman Art (1986) in Merida, Spain. But as his countrymen say, “Otros tiempos, otros gustos.” Other times, other tastes.
Another recent anti-Bilbao is Gluckman Mayner Architects’ Perelman Building at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This meticulous conversion of a landmark 1927 office building into galleries for modern sculpture, photography, and design epitomizes the firm’s preeminence in creating what art-world consensus deems the most consistently effective contemporary display environments. Perversely, Gluckman Mayner’s self-effacing approach has lost the firm at least one job, as I can attest from unhappy first-hand experience.