Henry Moore once said that “to be an artist is to believe in life.” And to see art is to feel alive. It liberates our souls, feeds our imaginations and breaks down barriers; it brings joy and can prompt sudden sadness, but most of all it makes us free. In an era when the future of cultural institutions is more uncertain than ever, some brave new museums have popped their heads above the parapet, daring to open for the first time during the pandemic. We round up the best.
François Pinault, the French businessman and founder of luxury group Kering, says that art is “the best medicine.” Never has this idea been loaded with more meaning. In the final throes of its completion, his 21-year project to build one of the finest new museums in Paris to house his art collection was further delayed by the Covid crisis. On May 22, 2021, however, the Pinault Collection finally opened its doors at the Bourse de Commerce in Paris. The vast exhibit includes Modernist masterworks by Mondrian and Rothko alongside pieces by contemporary artists including Jeff Koons, Urs Fischer, and Cindy Sherman.
The 19th-century stock exchange that houses the gallery has been exquisitely reimagined by architect Tadao Ando. At the core of the redesign is an austere concrete structure within the walls of the glass-domed rotunda. Initially Pinault was surprised by the notion of this circle within a circle.
“But after thinking about it, I realized that was exactly what needed to be done,” he says. “And it’s extraordinarily done. My intention was to show that this remarkable old building could exist in harmony with a radical 21st-century design. By allowing today’s architects to appropriate this old building, and do something radically new with it, that’s a way of showing that life, and museums, go on.”
He Art Museum, Guangdong, China
In Shunde, a district in China’s Guangdong province, a stack of staggered concrete and glass disks looks poised to rocket skywards. This is the new He Art Museum, and it’s set to put this part of China on the world’s art map. Architect Tadao Ando took inspiration from the founder’s family name, He—the Chinese character represents peace and harmony.
“From the architectural design to the craftsmanship of the smallest details, harmony is presented through a variety of circles that ripple from the bottom to the top,” he says. The museum houses an eclectic collection, from local art including ink-on-paper works from the Lingnan School style of painting to work by major international art stars including Damien Hirst.
Due to open in late September 2021, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is an homage to moviemaking. Comprising a 1930s building and the Sphere—a domed structure housing screening theaters topped by a terrace sheltered under a curving glass roof—the building itself is cinematic.
“By connecting these spaces, we created something like a movie,” says Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano. “You go from sequence to sequence, from exhibition galleries to the film theater and the terrace, with everything blending into one experience.” Core exhibitions include Stories of Cinema, which traces the evolution of film. Guest curators, including Spike Lee, will develop galleries, and—as a result of the pandemic—there’s a strong emphasis on virtual programming too.
WA Museum Boola Bardip, Perth, Australia
A bedazzling new cultural center in Perth, the WA Museum Boola Bardip has been four years in the making. With AU$400 million ($293.56 million) spent revamping historical buildings and adding cutting-edge extensions, the lines and form of the museum reflect the land strata in this part of Australia.
Inside the colors are similarly inspired by those of the landscape: a red terrazzo is reflective of the red earth of the Pilbara; the main terrazzo has colors native to Whadjuk Boodja, including the gray-green of the banksia tree. Gold throughout the building tells the story of Western Australia’s gold rush. The museum explores the relationship between people and place, featuring the voices of Western Australians and sharing the stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
“We can’t wait to throw open the doors and welcome everyone back,” said Sonia Solicari, director of London’s Museum of the Home ahead of its summer reopening. Located in a row of Grade I listed 18th-century almshouses, and formerly known as the Geffrye Museum, it’s been completely reimagined.
“With the redevelopment and then Covid, we’ve been closed for three years. We hope visitors to our museum will be intrigued and inspired by the personal stories of homelife that run through our new galleries and programs. In a year when many of our homes have morphed into places to work, learn, and keep fit, delving into ideas about home seems more important and relevant than ever. There’s more of a desire than ever before for art with a social message.”
Designed by leading Indian architect Soumitro Ghosh, the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) aims to take art and culture to the heart of the community. “As one of India’s new museums, we have tried to stay nimble and innovative,” says director Kamini Sawhney. “When we could not open our doors to the public, the team decided that if people could not come to MAP, we had to take MAP to people, and so our digital museum launched in December last year.
“We see the museum experience as a hybrid one,” Sawhney continues, “which combines the virtual and the physical, so that the engagement we have with our audiences becomes so much richer.” To that end Accenture Labs has combined A.I. with human-centered design to create a digital guide, which will have realistic conversations with visitors.
Museum of Underwater Art, Queensland, Australia
Sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor has created the Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA), located off the coast of Queensland. His eerie sunken statues will raise awareness of the area’s threatened ecosystem and encourage the rehabilitation of coral on the Great Barrier Reef, as well as providing refuge for a variety of marine creatures.
“Our oceans are going through rapid change, and there are huge threats, from rising sea temperatures to acidification,” says deCaires Taylor. Ocean Siren is the only exhibit visible above water—a 13-foot-tall (4 m) solar-powered sculpture of a girl that has hundreds of LED lights, which change from blue to red in response to water temperature. Officially opened on August 1, 2020, MOUA is ready for divers as soon as boat trips are permitted again.
Banner image: The exterior of The Bourse de Commerce Gallery, one of Paris’s finest new museums