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July 8, 2014

Gearing up for Gehry

Erica Minutella

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The art museum gets meta with its latest exhibition, Making a Classic Modern: Frank Gehry’s Master Plan for the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
On display through September 1 in the Dorrance Special Exhibition Galleries, interior and exterior models of planned renovations to the museum dangle overhead from the ceiling or sit in calm splendor on a series of table-top displays. Walking into the setup is a bit like stumbling into that episode of the Twilight Zone, in which a girl of Brobdingnagian proportions keeps her earthling pets in a model town. It’s difficult not to show the same level of fascination with these museums-in-miniature, cut open in delicate vignettes and presented like so many slices of layer cake.
If the devil is in the details, then this exhibition packs more punch than Solomon’s ring. A view into the Great Stair Hall includes a working mobile (just add breath), while the garden layout harbors crumpled and folded bits of colored paper, cleverly quaint representations of – you guessed it – The Anne d’Harnoncourt Sculpture Garden.
Among the proposed renovations laid out before the public eye are a lower-level excavation to create new underground galleries, a window view out onto the city skyline, and a new auditorium. Urban exploration aficionados will be especially appreciative of the re-opening of the vaulted walkway that runs from the door on the museum’s north side, currently being used as a loading dock. There the color of the original stone – still untouched by wind and weather – rivals the sunset.
With its expanded interiors, walkways, skylights and windows, Gehry’s art museum is a Golden Age sci-fi dream, seamlessly blending the original columned colossus with contemporary corridors and pockets of light.
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