Parrish Art Museum opens

Water Mill

10 November 2012

Today the Parrish Art Museum opens to the public after seven years of planning, a change to the original building design and a large cut to the available budget. The result is an almost 200m long building, resembling two colliding industrial sheds.

"The new building is a beautiful embodiment of the creative legacy of the East End," says the museum director Terrie Sultan. "With light-filled galleries, a flexible multi-purpose performance space, and many other public amenities, the Parrish will take its place as a real centre for cultural engagement for the entire East End.”

Swiss architecture firm Herzog & De Meuron was originally asked to design the new premises for the 110 year old museum in 2005. The site was the same as today, but the response was very different. Instead of this long, single-floor building, the museum was made up of several interconnected pavilions, but when the funding needed wasn't secured this new typology was developed.

"The starting point for the new Parrish Art Museum is the artist’s studio in the East End of Long Island," explains Herzog & De Meuron's website. "We set the basic parameters for a single gallery space by distilling the studio’s proportions and adopting its simple house section with north-facing skylights."

The museum consists of ten individual galleries and one long corridor running almost the entire length of the 187m long building. There is also a screening room, a café and two covered outdoor spaces for special events and temporary exhibitions. The materials used are also reflective of the area's vernacular as blackened cedar wood covers the exterior walls. The roof is corrugated iron and the gallery ceilings are covered in untreated plywood.

Herzog & De Meuron asked German industrial designer Konstantin Grcic to design the interiors for the museum, including the entrance lobby, the café and the offices. Like the building itself, these spaces feel functional and minimal with a certain recession aesthetic. Grcic was involved with the project since the beginning.

"Herzog & de Meuron were fantastic to work with. Very inspiring, but it was not an easy project," says Grcic. "The architects made a complete restart with this new scheme. That’s what’s been built now. I think it’s a much better building than the original building." Grcic found this process similar to his work for industry: "It shows that the working process, the evolution leads you to simpler and better solution the second time round. In industrial design we can do that all the time, but in architecture that isn't often the case."

Grcic developed a new chair for Emeco especially for the Parrish Art Museum and also new light fittings for the lobby and the offices, as well as built-in seating for the lobby. The impression of the Parrish Art Museum and its surrounding landscape is that of a carefully executed gesamtkunstwerk and that is even before the art has been considered.

Since the mid-1950s the Museum has grown to house a collection of more than 2,600 works of art from the nineteenth century to the present. It includes such contemporary painters and sculptors as John Chamberlain, Chuck Close, Eric Fischl and Elizabeth Peyton, as well as such masters as Dan Flavin, Roy Lichtenstein and Jackson Pollock. The inaugural exhibition, alongside the permanent collection, is Malcolm Morley: On Paper.