What art have I seen? New Parrish

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on August 9, 2014

The new Parrish Art Museum just outside Southampton, designed by Herzog and de Meuron (of Tate Modern fame), is at once a challenging and also quite subtle piece of architecture. It aspires to sit in the landscape like the epitome of an agricultural building: larger maybe, more overtly using the materials of agricultural architecture such as sterling board and exposed concrete.  It’s very different from the quiet neoclassicism of the old Parrish. Sitting on a basically rectangular plot next to Route 27, the relationship to landscape dodges the otherwise generic retail architecture that prevails along every highway in the US. On the other hand the relationship of the car parks, oak trees and swales at the back of the building is good, and the quality of wildflower meadow also successfully differentiates this space from commercial, municipal and domestic lawns.  Fritz Haeg and the Harrisons would be pleased to see this, and perhaps it will slowly change the wider landscape.
Inside the overhanging roof creates a quality of light recogniseable from the best architecture in places with such strong summer sun.
The spaces suit Maya Lin and Denis Oppenheim, both with works installed this summer. Maya Lin’s explorations of aspects of landscape at different scales are compelling, whilst Oppenheim’s proposals for splash buildings are fun and funky, but keep your attention.
The building doesn’t seem to serve traditional painting quite so well. It is perhaps too austere for William Merritt Chase’s works on show. 
It’s quite an achievement for a small town (albeit with access to considerable wealth) to have produced a space which will be considered alongside the best small art museums in the world. But with great wealth comes great responsibility and it would be interesting to hear how this institution engages with all those who are excluded. It looks like it might have good environmental credentials, but it needs good social ones beyond the conventional work with schools – where’s the residency with the hispanic migrant working community that services the domestic and gardening needs of the Hamptons, or works with isolated older people in the winter?

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