We often drive Grand River Avenue through southern Michigan while returning to the Detroit area after visiting friends and family in Grand Rapids on the western side of the state, so we kept track of the construction of a striking new art museum going up on the edge of Michigan State University's brick-and-ivy campus through 2011 and 2012.
The silver sliver of a building looked strangely out of place in its traditional campus setting at first glance, but a recent visit to the completed building revealed how a lot of the design decisions worked to integrate the Broad Museum of Art into its community while the institution pursues a willingness to embrace diversity and think outside of the traditional square box.
The Broad inherited an art collection from MSU's Kresge Art Museum that included 7,500 items from early Greek and Roman periods, pre-Columbian cultures, Medieval and Renaissance periods, and modern and post-1945 contemporary art. This collection makes the Broad unique among contemporary art museums by giving it an in-house resource that allows study of art through multiple eras all in one place.
The university originally wanted to extend the Kresge Art Center, but MSU alumni Eli Broad and his wife Edythe had a much bigger idea that they were willing to back with a major donation.
The couple envisioned a new art museum that would raise the mid-Michigan university's profile in art and culture with a prominently placed museum that offered a very visible way to encourage community engagement.
The Broads contributed more than $25 million over several years to construct a new art museum to house the current collection as well as expand the collection and museum programming.
Michigan State officials got behind the plan by making a place for the museum near the one of its main entrances along busy Grand River Avenue and raising the remainder of the $40 million required for the project.
I thought of architect Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain as I watched the construction of the Broad Museum. It's a comparison many people seem to make because the striking metallic architecture of both buildings with a lack of corners and parallel lines seems to evoke a similar sense of adventure and no-boundary thinking.
We visited the Guggenheim in Spain about a half-dozen years ago, so the comparison isn't lost on me. For me, with both museums, the architecture was the major attraction, while the art inside became secondary in my mind.
I don't believe this was necessarily the intention with either building, but I'm so into architecture and design that my attention naturally goes there.
Another building the Broad brought to mind was architect Daniel Libeskind's The Ascent at Roebling's Bridge in Covington, Kentucky. The pairing of the contemporary Broad with the conventional MSU campus reminded me of Libeskind's sharp-angled modern apartment building juxtaposed with a Civil-War era suspension bridge on the Ohio River near Cincinnati.
Like the Broad, the Ascent stirs a feeling of dissonance with me because of the conflicting styles and sensibilities between the different buildings.
Hadid likes to push the boundaries of architecture, imbuing her buildings with a sense of movement and marrying her designs with their urban surroundings. She also became the first woman to design a museum in the United States with her commission to do the Rosenthal Centre for Contemporary Arts in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Broad is only the second permanent architectural project for the London-based Hadid.
Hadid herself admits that the vaguely parallelogram shaped Broad is "a strange object sitting on the edge of campus", but she put a lot of thought into subtle ways to integrate the building into its urban-campus setting.
Main entries to the building lay on both the Grand River side and campus side of the museum, with the main gallery facing East Lansing's Grand River Avenue. A straight-line route between the two entrances follows a former favorite campus footpath as a symbolic means of knitting the city and campus communities together.
The linear simplicity of the entrance hall is also a "palate cleanser" for the more complicated angles and geometric shapes visitors encounter as they move through the rest of the building.
The unusual appearance of the building hints at making new discoveries as visitors explore the art within and consider questions and ideas raised by the exhibitions.
There are some areas in the building where you feel slightly off-kilter, or your perspective feels distorted, as sharp angles, tilting lines and inclined walls are a distinct departure from conventional square-box galleries.
The sharp angles and light moving off of the metallic exterior also give the building a sense of movement that adds to its dynamic appearance.
More than 70 percent of the 46,000-square-foot building contains exhibition space where tinted glass and louvered windows let a lot of natural light into the galleries
The building also houses an education wing, a works on paper study center, space to host lectures and special activities for families or school groups, a small gift shop and cafe. An outdoor sculpture garden and pedestrian plaza (where we saw an art history class meeting during our visit) help further draw in and engage the community.
The uniquely shaped galleries and lack of permanent exhibits present a continuing challenge to curators as they mount an ever-changing schedule of exhibits insuring that every visit to the Broad presents something new to even regular visitors.
Visitors who want to view some of the museum's vintage collection can check out what is on display at the storage area in the basement, which is open to public view via a large glass window.
Another fun feature is the huge elevator that serves as both a freight elevator and a way for visitors to move from floor to floor.
The Broad Museum of Art drew plenty of attention at its opening from the national and European press, and nearly 73,000 visitors came through the doors during its first six months.
Limits on photographing contemporary art in the museum (like many museums), makes illustrating how the artwork looks in the building tough, but it was all about the building for me anyway.
The Broad Museum of Art is open every day except for Mondays and major holidays. Admission is free, except for some special events.
Thanks to the Greater Lansing Michigan Convention and Visitors Bureau for sponsoring my visit to Lansing, providing lodging, meals and a tour of Lansing area attractions for my review during my recent visit there, with no further compensation. I was free to express my own opinions about the stay and experiences, and the opinions expressed here are mine.
© Dominique King 2013 All rights reserved