Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Balderdash weakens Brian Meehan claims

Was discarding river-blue colour an act of cultural heritage vandalism?

A few years ago, The London Free Press carried an opinion piece by Larry Cornies examining the Back to the River project: a move to reconnect the river to the city and to celebrate The Forks of the Thames. The claim is that this is something that has not been done in the recent past.

Have they forgotten the thinking behind the Raymond Moriyama-designed art gallery erected at The Forks in the late '70s and opened in 1980. Based on comments by Museum London executive director Brian Meehan, the short answer is "yes"; they have forgotten.

View of The Forks from the Moriyama art gallery in London.
Cornies reports, at the launch of the Back to the River design competition, Meehan claimed the present museum and gallery was built with its back to the river. It was designed to face the city, he said.

He was wrong. It wasn't designed that way at all.

Meehan went on to reveal the museum’s board is contemplating how to best accomplish an institutional about-face in terms of the building’s symbolic and physical orientation.

In truth, the present design was the result of public consultation. "Hundreds of questionnaires were distributed," according to an article in The Free Press published at the time of the opening. "In many ways, the gallery is a physical manifestation of the people and the process," said famous Canadian architect Raymond Moriyama.

For inspiration, Moriyama did a lot of walking about The Forks. One result of those walks was the original water-blue colour of the structure, inspired by the oh-so-near river. The design of the building and its site placement was driven by the need to recognize and enhance the beautiful location, The Forks itself.

Wolf Garden above Forks at gallery.
According to Randy Richmond, an award-winning reporter for The Free Press, the art gallery/museum was "designed to bridge The Forks of the Thames to the edge of downtown. It was a gateway from downtown to the river . . . " Moriyama himself said he made a conscious "attempt to erase any sense of front" from the design.

So much for the executive director's claim that the gallery was built with its back to the river.

Is any of this important? Yes, if London's built heritage is important. The wonderful Moriyama building didn't turn its back on The Forks and on London; London turned its back on the building.

Randy Richmond said it very well when he wrote:

Raymond Moriyama's original design evoked the river, the historical significance of the forks and the buildings around. The large arches were painted blue to evoke the river and inside was an airy fan design.
A reflecting pool in the lower gallery extended outside to a fountain and the water was to flow from the fountain to a stream that led to the river.

Citing finances, the city rejected the fountain and stream. The reflecting pool was built, but eventually filled in. After the blue panels atop the aches rusted, they were replaced with grey aluminum ones. (The dynamic fan shapes in the arches disappeared, as well.)

With the release of The London Plan, the city planning department is promising to "protect our built and cultural heritage." Despite being but 35 years old, the Moriyama art gallery/museum at The Forks is part of London's built and cultural heritage.

Heritage properties don’t have to be old. There are newer buildings and structures all across the province that have cultural heritage value because of their design, cultural associations or contribution to a broader context. 
Strengthening Ontario's Heritage: Identify, Protect, Promote (page 7)

I don't understand how those operating the art gallery, running a safe house for culture, can change the colour of a work of art, and make no mistake about it, the Moriyama building is a work of art. Possibly Meehan and the board should be contemplating making their own about-face when it comes to their thinking concerning the now pavement grey art gallery.
The gallery/museum was previously featured by this blogger in a post titled simply: The Gallery.

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