"A museum is just a box full of paintings, but it’s also something else," Chipperfield remarked.
That "something else" is an issue his work addresses again and again in a variety of site-specific iterations, but ultimately it boils down to a simple existential question: What is the purpose of a museum?
Chipperfield began with a review of noteworthy predecessors, although he paid the greatest attention to Schinkle’s Altes Museum. He argued that this museum was the first real attempt at making a truly civic building, as its airy, yet grand colonnade entrance presented an idea of removing the barrier between the public and the art within the museum.
"Museums are clumsy," Chipperfield said. "They have to both protect their works and make them public. To that end, they must be static and dynamic simultaneously."
That compromise between timelessness and vitality is one Chipperfield has thoroughly mastered. His renovation of Berlin’s Neues Museum and his continuing work on Museum Island are the most obvious examples of this. These projects exemplify the demands on a museum to both contextualize the past and provide a forum for thinking about the future.
Chipperfield also noted that people now see the museum as a destination in and of itself. This is thanks in part to Frank Gehry’s sensational Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, but also to the general rise in standard of living and resulting leisure time for larger populations. The museum must now function as a home for all art forms and accommodate a much larger number of visitors. He highlighted his Museum Folkwang in Essen and Museo Jumex in Mexico City as examples of work that meets these criteria with inventive style and grace.
Ultimately, for Chipperfield, the purpose of a museum is reflective. "Civilization is driven by a need to prove itself," he said.
As we continue into the future at breakneck speed, these repositories of the past are more necessary than ever. Thankfully we have David Chipperfield to carry on and evolve their majestic and beautiful forms.
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