Private Museums of the World: The Creation, Curation and Collections

In this STIR series, curated by Pramiti Madhavji, we take you behind the scenes of privately-owned museums, sharing chats with art collectors, curators and architects.

by Nadezna SiganporiaPublished on : Dec 08, 2020

Art can move mountains; it has the ability to burrow deep into your soul and change the way you see the world. It is this infallible characteristic that is the reason for many of today’s incredible private art collections around the world. However, most of the private art collectors and museum founders I spoke with conveyed a similar thought – locking their collections away is the antithesis to the purpose of art. They wanted to let the world in and be part of this beautiful journey.

So, they set off to create privately-owned institutions where their collections could reach the world. Daring, unconventional and unrestrained – private museums are in a league of their own. The narratives they portray and conversations they encourage aren’t constrained by budgets or prevailing societal norms. However, turning this idea into a reality takes time, effort, and most importantly, finding people who understand your vision. If the art is the moving story, the physical structures and surrounding landscape is the beautiful leather-bound book it comes in.

In this series of design-led articles, we delve into the architecture and design of these spaces. From some of the most remote locations where journeying into art is part of the cultural pilgrimage experience to locations that are right in the middle of bustling cities, these museums are carefully designed to not only align with their surroundings but be contextual to the creations they house. The series focuses on aspects of both the form and function of the architectural features as well as interesting details about the design from all perspectives.

1. Muzeum Susch, Switzerland

The museum housed in a 12th century former monastery and brewery in Susch, a remote town in the Engadin valley of the Swiss Alps | Private Museums of the World | STIRworld
The museum is housed in a 12th century former monastery and brewery in Susch, a remote town in the Engadin valley of the Swiss Alps Image: Claudio Von Planta, Courtesy of Muzeum Susch, Art Stations Foundation CH

The first part of the series explores the journey Polish entrepreneur and art collector Grażyna Kulczyk took with Zurich-based architects, Chasper Schmidlin and Lukas Voellmy, to transform a 12th century former monastery in the Swiss Alps into a remote private museum. “In these surroundings, away from the everyday order and activity, there is a chance to slow down, think differently, and space for new ideas to flourish. It is a counteraction to the experience of viewing art in big centres. From the onset of founding Muzeum Susch, I proposed ‘Slow Art’ - a way of engaging with art that is about the quality of the way we look at art, not the quantity,” explains Kulczyk.

2. Zeitz MOCAA, South Africa

View of Zeitz MOCAA in Silo Square | Private Museums of the World | STIRworld
The view of Zeitz MOCAA in Silo Square Image: Iwan Baan, Courtesy of Zeitz MOCAA

Located in Cape Town’s Victoria & Alfred Waterfront Silo District, Zeitz MOCAA is the world’s largest museum dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. In this article we understand the intricacies of transforming a 1920s granary into an exquisite museum. Designed by the internationally acclaimed London-based Heatherwick Studio, the museum has been carved out from the historic structure of the Grain Silo Complex. “The fact that it was going to be the backdrop for contemporary art from Africa played into the design of the venue; that was the defining essence of the project,” explains Stepan Martinovsky, project leader, Heatherwick Studio.

3. Fondation Carmignac, France

The villa houses the expansive collection of contemporary art of the Fondation Carmignac, founded by French entrepreneur Édouard Carmignac | Private Museums of the World | STIRworld
The villa houses the expansive collection of contemporary art of the Fondation Carmignac, founded by French entrepreneur Édouard Carmignac Image: Camille Moirenc, Courtesy of Fondation Carmignac

French entrepreneur and the founder of Fondation Carmignac, Édouard Carmignac, chose a Provencal villa on a remote Mediterranean island to showcase his vast collection of art. In this article we speak to his son and director of the foundation, Charles Carmignac, on how Atelier Barani, GMAA agency and landscape architect Louis Benech transformed this remote location into a wonderland of contemporary art. “Both a National Park and a touristic destination, the island puts into question mankind and its presence in the world…An island is always an elsewhere. By crossing over to the other side, we move away from the world, in order to better immerse ourselves in it. It makes us feel rooted and uprooted at once. Art does that too,” mentions Charles .

4. The Broad, USA

The Broad is a sedate yet impressive structure wrapped in a perforated exoskeleton that lifts on two sides to allow entry and exit | The Broad by Diller Scofidio + Renfro | Private Museums of the World | STIRworld
The Broad is a sedate yet impressive structure wrapped in a perforated exoskeleton that lifts on two sides to allow entry and exit Image: Iwan Baan, Courtesy of The Broad

The Broad, a contemporary art museum founded by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad, was designed by New York City-based Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler. Located on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles, the private museum shares visual space with the iconic and highly sculptural Walt Disney Concert Hall. Yet the museum holds its own, with an architecturally ambitious ‘veil and vault’ design concept. “In designing The Broad, we decided that what is typically a detractor (the storage area) could actually be a really interesting figure in the architecture, so why not turn it into a protagonist? Why not make it formally visible, in contact with the public spaces and with the galleries? So, we came up with the notion of the veil and the vault,” explains Elizabeth Diller co-founder and partner, Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

5. Saatchi Gallery, UK

A classical Georgian heritage building in Chelsea, London, was transformed into the new venue for Saatchi Gallery | Saatchi Gallery by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris | STIRworld
A classical Georgian heritage building in Chelsea, London, was transformed into the new venue for Saatchi Gallery Image: Tim Soar, Courtesy of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

London-based architecture firm, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, transforms a classical Georgian heritage building into the venue for Saatchi Gallery where the architecture skilfully and subtly recedes to let the art take centre stage. Located within the listed Duke of York’s HQ building in Chelsea, the architects carved out 67,000 square-feet of gallery spaces within the heritage structure. They brought in a thread of restraint in the architecture in the large, double-height spaces, the intimate rooms and the new, simple circulation system. "We were very interested in the idea that the gallery itself was the public place and all the moving patterns are through the gallery. That made it quite distinct…it was both the challenge and the generator of the gallery’s unique arrangement,” says Simon Allford, architect, co-founder and director of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris.

6. Fondation Maeght, France

Fondation Maeght, designed by Catalan architect Josep Lluís Sert | Fondation Maeght | Josep Lluís Sert | STIRworld
Fondation Maeght, designed by Catalan architect Josep Lluís Sert Image: Roland Michaud, Courtesy of archives of Fondation Maeght

“The main idea of the Foundation is to make modern and contemporary art known. It is to exhibit the works in a way that is accessible in the literal sense of the word, without barriers, without showcases. We want to convey to our visitors an approach to art that is simple,” says Isabelle Maeght, the granddaughter of founders Aimé and Marguerite Maeght, and a member of the board of directors. Designed by Catalan architect Josep Lluís Sert for and with artists, the architecture of Fondation Maeght is heavily influenced by the natural elements and surrounding landscape.

“My grandparents wanted a place for artists to express themselves in their own image. The Foundation became the first dedicated to modern art in France. The creation process around the Foundation is unique because it was born similar to a family story. As in a family home, everyone contributes, with an idea or a work…The fact that the Foundation was created entirely in collaboration with the artists shows the extent to which each of them – Giacometti, Miro, Braque - embodied their own representation of space.”

7. Rubell Museum, New York

(L): Rubell Museum; (R) Don Rubell walks the internal spine of the museum; to the left is art by Kehinde Wiley, in the background is a piece by Keith H | Rubell Museum | Selldorf Architects | Private Museums of the World | STIRworld
(L): Rubell Museum; (R) Don Rubell walks the internal spine of the museum; to the left is art by Kehinde Wiley, in the background is a piece by Keith H Image: (Left) Courtesy of Rubell Museum, (Right) Nicholas Venezia, Courtesy of Selldorf Architects

Don and Mera Rubell started their vast and diverse collection back in 1965 when they purchased their first piece on installment. These newlyweds, based in New York City, eventually became champions for emerging and often overlooked contemporary artists from around the world by giving them an international platform through their private collection.

From their New York City townhouse that was packed to the rafters with works, the couple moved their collection to Miami where they turned a former Drug Enforcement Agency building in the Wynwood district into a public viewing space for their art. For over 20 years, this remained their home until 2019, when Selldorf Architects transformed a 100,000 square foot former industrial campus in Miami’s multi-ethnic Allapattah district into a sprawling canvas for the diverse and deep collection.

Helmed by Annabelle Selldorf, the firm created the museum through adaptive re-use of six, single-storeyed industrial structures. “We met with several talented architects but were most struck by Annabelle Selldorf’s incredible knowledge of contemporary art and desire to create the best possible spaces for contemporary art,” explains Juan Valadez, Director of Rubell Museum. “The museum’s architecture is in the service of the art on view, with neither overpowering the other.”

8. Fondation Beyeler, Switzerland

Architect Renzo Piano purposefully designed the museum building to be unobtrusive and blend with the surrounding natural landscape | Fondation Beyeler | Renzo Piano | STIRworld
Architect Renzo Piano purposefully designed the museum building to be unobtrusive and blend with the surrounding natural landscape Image: Mark Niedermann, Courtesy of Fondation Beyeler

Designed by Genoese architect, Renzo Piano, the Fondation Beyeler museum has been described as a ‘museological practicality’. Located in Riehen, Basel, the museum was founded by Ernst and Hildy Beyeler to house their acclaimed art collection. The museum was built in the middle of the beautiful Berower Estate close to the 18th century Villa Berower and opened to the public in 1997.

Drawing from the Piano’s decades of experience in the world of museum design, the building is a wonderful amalgamation of solid concrete walls and light glass ceiling; it had been envisioned as a light-filled ‘greenhouse’ for art merging with the surrounding natural landscape and uplifted by the historical villa. With the goal of art, architecture and nature harmonizing, the building is surrounded by old trees, a water lily pond and views of cornfields, vineyards and the foothills of the Black Forest.

In June 2021, an extension project was given the green light and construction is scheduled for late summer this year. Designed by Atelier Peter Zumthor, the extension will create a unique ensemble of buildings and almost double the park area open to the public. Keeping with the nature-filled setting of Renzo Piano, the new addition will consist of three buildings – the grand House for Art, a minimal service building and a glass pavilion for events.

9. Museum of New and Old Art (MONA), Tasmania

Private Museums of the World – specially curated series by STIR | Nadzena Siganporia | STIRworld
Private Museums of the World – specially curated series by STIR Image: Courtesy of STIR

“Briefed by our client to be a functional receptacle, not architectural spectacle, MONA is carved into a peninsular outside the city of Hobart, where the bold geometry of its waffle concrete and Corten steel container is weathering gently into the landscape.”

This is the introduction by architectural firm Fender Katsalidis for their creation MONA – a quixotic museum on the banks of the Derwent River in Hobart, Tasmania, which is owned by businessman, art collector and professional gambler, David Walsh. Says architect James Pearce, Director, Fender Katsalidis, “MONA is an experiment into the human condition. That experiment is ongoing and ever changing. The aesthetic wanted to be robust enough to engage with the on-going changes and not so precious that its curators wouldn’t be afraid to chop and change.”

Explaining the genesis, Jarrod Rawlins, Director, Curatorial Affairs, MONA says, “This has potential to be a very long story but the condensed version is that the museum's owner—David Walsh—made a lot of money gambling, began collecting art, purchased a winery by accident, built a small museum of antiquities on that property, decided that museum was boring and chose to build a better one, the better one became much bigger than expected, more people turned up, now it just keeps getting bigger, and more people keep turning up!”  

MONA has been designed to have the visitor in a constant state of confusion; never fully knowing what is going on. As with most things unconventional, they are usually, at the very least, interesting. MONA is definitely one of them. 

10. Magazzino Italian Art, New York

A 1964 former warehouse in Cold Springs, New York, was transformed into a museum by Architect Miguel Quismondo | Magazzino Italian Art | Miguel Quismondo | STIRworld
A 1964 former warehouse in Cold Springs, New York, was transformed into a museum by Architect Miguel Quismondo Image: Javier Callejas; courtesy of Magazzino Italian Art

Located in Cold Spring, New York, Magazzino Italian Art is a private initiative founded by Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu to house their collection of post-war Italian Art. The site chosen was a former warehouse built in 1964 which consisted of an 11,000 square-foot L-shaped structure surrounded by loading docks and canopies. Architect Miguel Quismondo completely renovated the existing building and added an additional 14,000 square feet of new construction. Establishing a dialogue between the new and old building, the existing L-shape was transformed into a rectangle with a central courtyard.

“The location of Magazzino, in the vicinity of the town of Cold Spring in the Hudson Valley, was chosen based on the co-founders’ close ties to the area. Living nearby and having spent many years as part of the community, this allowed them to give back on a very personal level. Working with architect, Miguel Quismondo, they chose the structure of a former computer manufacturing warehouse to repurpose into an exhibition space. Quismondo greatly expanded the structure, which now doubles in square-footage and allows the visitor to step through a series of galleries that wrap around a central courtyard. The industrial features allow for an elegant management of natural light, providing an optimal and unintrusive framework around the works on view, and paying tribute to the museum’s name Magazzino, which means “warehouse” in Italian,” says Vittorio Calabrese, Director, Magazzino Italian Art.

Private Museums of the World:
Curated by Pramiti Madhavji, STIR presents Private Museums of the World: an original series that takes you behind the scenes of privately-owned museums, sharing their origin with chats with art collectors, museum directors, curators and architects, who seamlessly come together to create the most unusual and amazing structures to host art collections.

Watch this space for more.

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