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Before Abramović: Four Ill-Fated OMA Museum Proposals
Amanda Ryan

Last week, Marina Abramović announced that she has commissioned OMA, Rem Koolhaas’s architecture firm, to develop her massive performing arts center in Hudson, New York. The Marina Abramović Institute for the Preservation of Performance Art, projected to open in 2014, is designed for long-duration performances of six hours or more, and visitors will sign a contract agreeing to stay for at least that long. The main performance space will be visible from all parts of the institute, including the cafe and the library; auxiliary experience rooms will be outfitted with magnetic fields and crystals.

Over the years, Koolhaas has produced many ambitious plans for museums, quite a few of which haven’t seen the light of day. The institutions often cite cost as an issue (many come with a $200 million price tag), but Koohaas’s strong ideological vision and rejection of the institution’s existing infrastructure sometimes also play a role. Given the wholehearted support of Abramović and the modest $15 million budget, the new OMA project stands a much stronger chance of realization than these past museum proposals.

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MoMA Charette, New York, 1997

In 1997, MoMA selected ten architects to participate in a three-month charette, or ideas competition, to choose a design for a massive renovation and expansion. For his submission, Koolhaas submitted an 800-page tome that read as part philosophy of architecture, part satire in which he mused on the cultural functions of museums and their shortcomings. He proposed sinking the sculpture garden, diagonal trams that cut across floors, and a new pyramidal tower. Administrative offices were moved to a glass tower, which Koolhaas dubbed “MoMA, Inc.,” and the architect even included images of trustees sipping champagne under gaudy chandeliers. The proposal did not make the first cut.

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Guggenheim Las Vegas, 2001-2003

As Guggenheim branches were popping up all over the world, director Thomas Krens (1988-2008) made a move for one of the world’s top tourist destinations—Las Vegas. The museum’s scale matched its location, the Venetian, the world’s largest resort complex. The large hangar-like building was 63,700 square feet with a door fit for a space shuttle hangar (for comparison, the Deutsche Guggenheim is just 3,500 square feet). The only exhibition mounted in the space, The Art of the Motorcycle, was no match for the lure of the casinos. The space was open just fifteen months.

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The Whitney Extension, 2001

The Whitney had outgrown its 1966 Marcel Breuer building long before it announced plans to move to a new building in the Meatpacking District. In 2001, the museum was in talks with Rem Koolhaas for a dramatic redesign of the space. Koolhaas proposed incorporating the Whitney’s historic brownstones next door as exhibition space (they were used as offices) and building an additional structure on top of them that would connect to the Breuer building and nearly double the exhibition space. The expansion also came with its own curatorial thrust: Koolhaas dubbed the restaurant, café, library, and store “Experience© spaces” that could be utilized for exhibiting art. The brownstones would display pre-war art, the Breuer building post-war art, and the new building would be for contemporary exhibitions. After two years, six million dollars, and a backlash from the surrounding community, the board deemed the expansion too expensive and scrapped the plans.

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Slash and Burn at LACMA, 2001

In 2001, Koolhaas also designed a complete reinvention of the LACMA campus. The plans involved tearing down the majority of the existing buildings (some of which had been built in the last twenty years) and then uniting the old and new buildings with a massive overhead canopy. Koolhaas envisioned the buildings being arranged by continent so that viewers could either move vertically through time or horizontally across cultures in the same time period. Koolhaas’s plan would have radically changed the visitor experience (and destroyed some buildings that were named after current board members). Although Eli Broad pledged money for half the cost of the expansion, it is not entirely surprising that the board did not approve the plans. Ultimately, they went with a much more conservative renovation designed by Renzo Piano, who is also designing the Whitney’s new building.