I haven’t seen any images of David Chipperfield’s expansion to the Saint Louis Art Museum since they loaded it with the art, so I was very happy to bump into a video where the curator of the museum talks about the new space while cameras glide smoothly through the pristine, day-lit galleries. It’s really an impressive space.
Chipperfield’s work may be a bit conservative to some (“probably a bit more conservative” is the phrase Aaron Betsky came up with to predict the architect’s curatorial attitude during a lecture given before the Venice Biennale) but I’m actually surprised by some of the flashy details. Specifically, I’m surprised by the long and shiny grates that interrupt the White Oak flooring. At least I think they’re metal grates for the HVAC system, but in some photos they look more like dark, polished stone. Whatever they are, they call a lot of attention to themselves, and in some sweeps of the galleries it’s the first thing I noticed.
The second thing I noticed was probably the grid of the coffered ceiling. It’s such a dominant feature of the project that it actually organizes everything, dictating where the white walls and shiny floor grates can go. But when the light floods through the skylights, as it does in the video, it somehow softens the ceiling and turns it into a heavy but benign cloud. I can only imagine how fantastic it would be to stand in the gallery and watch the shadow of a cloud pass over the ceiling grid. But then there’s the artwork.
I had no idea that the collection of the SLAM was this impressive. Whether or not the architecture is background enough seems irrelevant when it will likely be ignored once people are past the visitor’s desk. The museum is really what’s happening between the floor grates and the ceiling grid, like a frame for artwork that is mostly unframed.