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Museums for a New Millennium: Concepts Projects Buildings

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by Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani and Angeli Sachs. Prestel, 1999. 224pp. £39.95. (Distributor Biblios 01403 710851)

Museums for a New Millennium is the catalogue to an exhibition to be held at a dozen venues from Antwerp to Kamakura, Japan, over the next three years, writes Andrew Mead. It combines built works and several under construction with one unrealised but still pertinent proposal - Koolhaas' Karlsruhe Centre for Art and Media Technology, 'an electronic Bauhaus'.

These contents partly overlap with those of Victoria Newhouse's excellent Towards a New Museum (AJ 29.10.98), though the approach here is different, with commentaries on individual projects, 25 in all, being provided by a range of authors - among them, Kenneth Frampton, Kenneth Powell and Deyan Sudjc. There is no unifying point of view. But the presentation of each museum is thorough, with contributors able to write at some length, and, as a current survey of this building type, the book is as good as definitive.

Naturally the argument about architecture upstaging art appears and is dealt with most decisively in an introductory essay by Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani, who doesn't exempt mimimalist schemes from criticism. 'We are left with a paradox. Extreme reduction and extreme expression, and all that lies in between these poles, is ultimately driven by the same motivation: to establish the primacy of architecture over art. Museum architecture remains a playground for architects ....'

Which is not necessarily the architect's fault, says Lampugnani, in a society that equates art with entertainment. He believes, however, that a minority still sees art as a means of enlightenment, 'a mechanism for learning', and that the great challenge now is 'to create architecture that is congenial to such a narrow interpretation of art'. He gives no example of what that architecture might look like; it is just the ghost at the feast in the pages that follow.

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