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Pompidou vs. Chicago's Modern Wing: Deducing Renzo Piano

posted by Tim Nafziger on 02/20/12 at 12:44 AM

Yesterday I visited the Art Institute of Chicago and took along my camera. Two years ago they added a new wing to the museum, and I hadn't visited since then. As I walked through the new structure, I found myself watching the shapes created as people moved through the space. There was something familiar about it.

When I got home, I started doing some research, and I discovered that the architect for the Modern Wing was also involved in designing, the George Pompidou center, a modern art museum I found myself photographing in Paris in 2004. I've found myself drawn to light and shadow in both spaces. As I went back to look at some of the photos from 2004, I immediately began to notice similarities. For example, the walls were almost entirely of glass, and the translucent screens in both museums were similar:



Art Institute (screens in background)


I also noticed similar designs in the stairs, zigzagging back and forth as they climbed through the space, with minimal visible support. As museum visitors go up and down these highly visible stair cases, they remind themselves and the viewer of influential works of modern art such as Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase No.2 which abstracted the body in motion to a complex grid of squares, circles and lines:

Art Institute


In motion:

Pompidou (stairs in background):


I'm rarely one to pay attention to architecture, but these two galleries have drawn my eye. It seems that's part of the goal of the school of high tech architecture: to draw attention to the structure itself. Or at least, those elements that look like structure. Wikipedia says, "In buildings such as the Pompidou Centre, this idea of revealed structure is taken to the extreme, with apparently structural components serving little or no structural role." So perhaps these elaborate beams above the sculpture garden on the roof of the Pompidou are simply ornamental:


It was harder for me to spot the ornamental (vs. functional) beams at the Art Institute: DSC_0160 DSC_0161DSC_0187

The transparency of the Modern Wing allowed me to look into three spaces at once from the third floor. The resulting image evokes Piet Mondrian's Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow. DSC_0184

For me there was a simple joy in discovering shared themes in buildings so far apart geographically.

Here are some other images from around the Chicago Art Institute of modern art pieces and their audience:

DSC_0167DSC_0174DSC_0130DSC_0139Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

And from the Centre George Pompidou:


These images for me highlight the varied ways in which people interact with modern art in particular. Viewers are at once attracted and confused by these pieces. Some are looking at the pieces, but others are just strolling by as if they are out for a walk in the park. For the walk in the park viewer, the pieces provide an ambient experience, much like green grass and trees do in the park.

Nafziger_tim_2_thumbnail Tim Nafziger is passionate about gathering people with shared values to work together for change in our communities and our world. One such space is Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) where he works as interim assistant director. Tim lives with his wife Charletta in the Ojai Valley in southern California where they connect with Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministires. Tim has written chapters in Widening the Circle: Experiments in Christian Discipleship; Fear or Freedom?: Why a Warring Church Must Change; and 118 Days: Christian Peacemaker Teams Held Hostage in Iraq. His photo portfolio is at You can follow Tim on Twitter at @tim_nafziger

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