I love the way in which a museum can change the character of a city, by creating a new cultural, social, and architectural context. Presence of a museum usually affects (or at least should affect) the whole neighborhood, as it requires some additional services: a parking lot, someplace to take a rest, someplace to have a coffee or lunch. Today I’d like to show you 5 unique museum neighborhoods. Ready? Let’s go!
ms² — Museum of Art in Łódź, Poland (Muzeum Sztuki w Łodzi)
Have you ever heard of Museum of Art in Łódź? Did you know that it actually is one of the oldest museums of modern art in the world? It opened in 1930, and what makes it really special is the fact that it wasn’t created by art historians or curators, but by a group of artists. Sculptress Katarzyna Kobro, her husband Władysław Strzemiński, a painter and theoretician, and their friend Henryk Stażewski, also a painter, had been assembling the collection of avant-garde artworks for a couple of years before the museum opened. They were amongst the most important representatives of the constructivist movement, and as such, they got acquainted with many internationally renowned artists of that time, such as Kurt Schwitters, Fernand Léger, Lionel Feininger, or Max Ernst.
At first, the museum used to be located in a former Town Hall. In 1973 it was relocated to a neo-renaissance villa, which still serves as one of the seats of the Museum. In 2008 the main collection of 20th and 21st-century art was transported to a new location: a spectacularly modernized 19th-century weaving factory. Together with a shopping & leisure center located in another part of the former factory, the Museum forms a part of a huge complex called Manufaktura. There were some controversies about the idea of placing a cultural institution within such a short distance from a shopping center, but soon it turned out to be a good idea. It positively affected the whole area surrounding Manufaktura, turning it into a lively and diverse neighborhood, not to mention the fact that the former weaving factory itself has been given a second life.
MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona), Barcelona
Clean lines of the architecture designed by Richard Meier, lots of contemporary art inside, and bohemian atmosphere of the neighborhood: welcome to MACBA. One of the most emblematic places of Barcelona opened for visitors in 1995. Located at the very heart of Raval, a charming district full of little designer boutiques, vintage secondhand boutiques and bookshops, it is also a place famous for… skateboarding! You can sip your cortado in front of any of numerous tiny cafes located nearby, and watch 7-year-old boys mastering ollies and kickflips, as well as admire older guys who skateboard professionally, spending long hours demonstrating and recording tricks. I’m sure that someday they will end up on the UNESCO list, being an important element of local heritage 🙂
Last time I visited Berlin was almost 5 years ago, and it was a pretty intense journey. We were traveling together with a group of students and professors of the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, and our main goal was to see the magnificent exhibition of renaissance portrait at Bode Museum. We left Krakow around midnight, arrived in Berlin early in the morning, and half asleep crawled out of the bus, only to spend next three hours in the waiting line that had already formed in front of the museum. Yep, the exhibition was due to finish the next day, and booking the tickets in advance had already been impossible for a month or so. It was a chilly November morning, and the sun was slowly rising above Museumsinsel (Museum Island), where many of the most important museums of Berlin are located: Neues Museum, Altes Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie, Bode Museum, Pergamonmuseum. I think that for everybody who has at least some faint idea of how incredibly destroyed Berlin was after WW2, the scenery of Museumsinsel must be a huge surprise. I mean, Berlin was really nothing but a pile of rubble and ashes. The museums located on the Museumsinsel were ruined in more than 70%, the most spectacular one — Neues Museum — remained such for more than 40 years. The process of reconstruction of Museumsinsel is still going on and is expected to finish around 2025. Nevertheless, I think that what has already been done deserves a huge respect. Today the Museumsinsel gives us some idea of how Berlin looked like before the war turmoil. Oh boy, it really must have been impressive.
South Bank, London
South Bank of the river Thames in London is an incredibly lively place. I love it, because it gives an opportunity to catch a glimpse of so many emblematic points of the city. A walk alongside South Bank is a walk through the ages: over here you pass by the Globe Theatre, over there you enter Tate Modern. If you get the munchies after wandering from Rothko to Bacon, you can take a 15-minute walk to the Borough Market and try some mouthwatering examples of street food from all over the world. After satisfying your appetite you can head towards the Tower Bridge and Design Museum. That’s actually what I love most about London in general — everything is possible there.
Last, but not least, probably the most famous museum neighborhood in Europe. I’ve been to Vienna many times, and only once I spent there more than 3 days. It really is beyond easy to pop into Vienna just for a weekend and visit almost every important museum. Moreover, as everything is located within walking distance, you won’t have to use the public transport, not even once. MuseumsQuartier is formed by Leopold Museum (famous for its stunning collection of Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka), MUMOK museum of contemporary art, Kunsthalle Wien, Architekturzentrum, Tanzquartier, and ZOOM Kindermuseum. Just on the opposite side of the Museumsplatz we have Kunsthistorisches Museum and Naturhistorisches Museum. It really is a unique neighborhood, everything there is about art and culture. MuseumsQuartier houses also one of my favorite museum boutiques, and a phenomenal bookshop — a branch of an international chain store Buchhandlung Walther König. Every time I visit this shop, I thank god that I’m traveling by bus and I don’t have to worry about overweight luggage, if you know what I mean 😉
What are your favorite museum or cultural neighborhoods? Have you been to any of the places I mentioned in this post? What is your opinion of them? Leave a comment!
PS. If you’re wondering how is Toby the Moose from Little Mooseum, I can tell you in secret that he is up to something really special. Stay tuned!