Sunday, October 27, 2019

I Was Used By Richard Meier

Richard Meier (1934-) is what we call these days a starchitect.  He won the most prestigious award for architecture, the Pritzker Prize, in 1984, the year after I.M. Pei won.  I am not a big fan though I can appreciate his innovation.  He has been described as, “an American abstract artist and architect, whose geometric designs make prominent use of the color white.”  Is white your favorite color?

I believe that the first Richard Meier building I was in was the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, shortly after it opened in 1983.  My two memories of it are that aside from being very white, inside and out, the stair railings were built so a child could easily fall through, a fault that was later corrected. Also, on the top floor which was to house the drawings a large skylight allowed for direct sunlight on the walls, the greatest peril for works on paper!

In 1995 Meier completed the City Hall and Library for the Hague in the Netherlands, creating a new city center.  In 2017, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the de Stijl movement, Meier’s  huge white slab building  was painted with blocks of color in the style of  Piet Mondrian, de Stijl’s preeminent into “the world’s largest Mondrian painting”.  The new fa├žade was created by artists Madje Vollaers and Pascal Zwart of Studio VZ.  Although meant to be temporary, in my personal opinion it was a great improvement!

In the mid 1990’s, when I was on the President’s Cultural Property Committee, we were taken to Meier’s yet unfinished Getty Museum to meet with many Arts Ministers from Central America.  Here is a photo of the committee and others participating in the conference in front of the building.

The Getty officially opened in December of 1997 at a staggering cost of $1.3 billion!  To be fair, it is a campus complex including the Conservation Institute, the Research Institute, the Foundation, the Trust and, of course, the museum.  The President of the museum at the time had rejected several suitable locations on terra firma, as he wanted to build a monument overlooking L.A.. He picked a spot in Brentwood with breathtaking views but directly on a major earthquake fault! Special structural considerations were needed and, methods had to be invented to secure the museum’s works of art against the inevitable tremors and quakes.

A short time after this I was told that Richard Meier wanted to meet and have lunch with me.  I must say I was somewhat flattered.  Why would this starchitect want with me?  It  took a while to realize what his goal was.  My parents were originally from Frankfurt am Main, Germany and he wanted to learn all about it.  My knowledge, however, was fairly limited having only been there a few times and my parents’ stories were limited.  The other shoe dropped sometime later when I found out that Meier had been asked to build the Museum Angewandte Kunst (decorative arts museum) in that town and needed background information!  Of course, he had not mentioned this. I was not a happy camper!

To quote Meier, “Any work of architecture that has with it some discussion, some polemic, I think is good. It shows that people are interested, people are involved.” According to one definition, Polemic is “a strong verbal or written attack on someone or something”.  So, as I have found there are those who love his work as well as some that hate it, I suppose he would consider it a success!

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