cover image The Art Museum in Modern Times

The Art Museum in Modern Times

Charles Saumarez Smith. Thames & Hudson, $39.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-500-02243-6

Former National Portrait Gallery director Smith examines how museums’ architecture and design has elevated the experience of art in this perceptive and generously illustrated volume. Beginning with New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Smith takes a sweeping inventory of contemporary museums worldwide, revealing how funding, leadership, vision, and architecture have transformed the institutions’ meaning and purpose, rendering these spaces “as much about the geography of contemporary cultural and artistic experience as [they are] about the history of the art and culture of the past.” With detailed case studies of venues including London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, which salute more scholarly works, and New York’s MoMA, which demonstrates the “experience of modernity,” Smith considers how museums have changed over the past 80 years and now focus less on the canon than on evolving displays, stimulating viewing experiences, and striking architecture. He further elucidates his points with mini-histories of playful postmodern institutions interested in taking visitors on a “personal, private journey,” among them Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, with its transfixing, “free-form design,” and the Broad Museum in Los Angeles, a cavernous structure where art-seeing becomes a “visceral and sensual experience.” Insightful and thought provoking, this work is required reading for cultural historians, art connoisseurs, and museumgoers. (Apr.)