AARON ZIMMERMAN

Perception Restrained by Herzog and de Meuron at MoMA.




"Perception Transformed" Zoo Magazine No. 12. (2006) pg. 33.



            The room has black walls and pine picnic benches in five rows. Fifteen flat panel monitors light the scene from above. Each repeats a different segment from a classic film; Jeremy Irons operating on himself; helicoptors bombing the Vietnam countryside; Paul Morrisey's naked ass; heroin injected into an arm; a limp, vacant DeNiro, gun in hand, sprawled on a blood soaked sofa. The light created by the flickering screens forms a muted, synthetic daylight. The films shown above claim the position of an art-chapel ceiling. We look on as if to God.
            The environment of a museum or a gallery is open. It's almost pornographic. But the atmosphere at Herzog & de Meuron, Perception Restrained, the seventh in MoMA's Artist's Choice series, is like a prude's cross-legged blush. As voyeurs, we attempt to leer into its folds, glimpsing Gober, de Kooning, Picasso, Cezanne, Giacometti, Pollack, Warhol, Mondrian.
            In another enclosure, an Arbus, several Shermans, a Mapplethorpe and a Dykstra are barely visible. We witness sophisticated chairs, forks, speakers, tables, glasses and clocks from a restrained view slanting inward and down.
            Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron are no strangers to museums. They worked on the Tate Modern, the Walker Art Center and San Francisco's De Young Museum.Yet this show offers a severe counterpoint to how art is displayed. Exclusion, a hallmark of contemporary visual culture, is celebrated here. Selectivity generated through architecture and the need to peer through walls as opposed to staring at them, is Herzog and de Meuron's take on a revamp of museum design. The first in the Artist's Choice series given to architects, Perception Restrained utilizes "the perception of art itself" as its subject.
            On a bad day, a museum can resemble a large, white cube on dry ice. A walk through such expanse and light leaves the mind washed and the body limp. "The problem facing the museum," explain Herzog and de Meuron, "is not a lack of first rate art, but rather, a lack of perceptive attention on the part of museum visitors. The art is there, spread out in a panorama, professionally illuminated, impossible to overlook- but it is not seen."
            Turning the viewing experience inside out is just one way the architects steer this "perception machine." Confirming "an undeniable shift in imagery that has taken place in recent years," Herzog and de Meuron have used MoMA's classic departments-architecture and design, drawing, film and media, painting and sculpture, photography, prints and illustrated books- to draw attention not only to the way these media are exhibited in the museum (and the art world) but to the way the world views them.



For more on Herzog and de Meuron go here.

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The cover of Zoo No. 12.

The article as it originally appeared.



Thanks to Zoo Magazine and the artist for permission to reproduce this article.