In many cases historic buildings are finding a new meaning in an increasingly technological world as canvases for modern art. Whether it is as a cinema, or a projection space or as a place for installations. This sort of repurposing brings new life and new significance to historic buildings.
There are many examples, but I thought I’d just discuss a few. I’d like to begin with some I have previously mentioned in an earlier post.
Fontevraud is an abbey in France that was founded in the 11th century. Various parts of it have been used for artistic installations. The Cloister. You can walk on this sculpture, creating whole new ways of seeing an ancient building.The dormitory. You are able to lie in these boats, simulating the experience of the sleeping monks.
The two installations in Fontevraud both work with the history of the building to give alternative ways of experiencing it.
Another example from France is Foix Castle not that far from Toulouse. You can see the castle below. It is perched on a a lump of carboniferous limestone and parts of the castle itself date from the 11th century. It was involved in the Albigensian Crusade and was part of an area of known Cathar sympathisers.
The installations below could be found inside and were both representations of people at prayer. Again repurposing an old building and using its own history for art.
Fontevraud and Foix notwithstanding, probably the best known historic building repurposed for art is The Louvre itself in Paris. It is an ancient palace and castle and now one of the most famous art galleries in the world. As you can see from its foundations, incidentally one of my favourite parts of The Louvre, it has been there for a long time. In fact it began its life as a fortress commissioned by Phillip Augustus to protect Paris in c. 1190. This fortress was large even for its time, with a keep measuring roughly 15m diameter and 30m in height. Within the Louvre itself you also have the repurposing of rooms, such as Napoleon III’s apartments, for the display of modern art. In this particular case they were integrated to simultaneously blend in with the overt opulence and to reflect it.
Historic buildings are not just used for static art. They are also used for performances, such as the Vivaldi concert in the stunning Sainte Chapel you can see below. Sainte Chapel was commissioned by Louis IX, later Saint Louis, and was originally built to house his collection of holy relics. It is one of the few survivors of the full colour that would have been present in many of the larger churches and cathedrals. It also has one of the largest collections of 13th century stained glass.
Aside from music and art installations historic buildings are becoming canvasses in their own right. This often happens in festivals such as the recent Melbourne White Night. Melbourne has many historic buildings, by historic in Melbourne I mean 1800s and early 1900s not medieval, and on White Night several come alive with astounding light and sound displays.
The State Library of Victoria is one of my favourite buildings in Melbourne. The SLV has been on its site, though in a smaller building, since it opened in 1856. The founders wanted to create a place of learning for all Victorians and a place to preserve Victoria’s heritage. It is not one building. It is actually made up of 23 individual buildings that have been repurposed and integrated over the years. In the SLV my favourite room is the Latrobe domed reading room which was opened in 1913. The dome itself is 114 feet in diameter and 114 feet high. It is a wonderful place to study or write. During a normal day it looks like this. But on White Night this year, this happened.
Other buildings were illuminated externally. Such as the Forum Theatre. The Forum opened in 1929 and is slightly insane in its own right even without illumination. It was built as an immersive theater and the interior has a large number of greek and roman statues as well as a blue sky with stars. This is what is looks like normally.
And this is what it and its surrounding buildings look like when they’re lit up.
The final building I wanted to look at is in some ways the most spectacular and the most important historically. The Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens was completed in 1880 for Melbourne’s first international exhibition. It is one of the world’s oldest examples of exhibition pavilions. It was also the site of Australia’s first parliament in 1901. The Argus described the event as.
The atmosphere was radiant and illuminated the vast spaces of the building and the great sea of faces with a bright Australian glow. A sight never to be forgotten was the assemblage which, in perfect order but with exalted feeling, awaited the arrival of the Duke and Duchess in the great avenues which branch out from beneath the vast dome of the Exhibition Building. (Argus 10 May 1901)
And it was depicted in the famous Tom Roberts painting below.
This is what the Exhibition Building looks like during the day, a beautiful example of exhibition architecture.
Below is the truly stunning work of moving modern art it became on White Night. Sorry about any talking in the background.
Historic buildings have their own story and their importance and purpose is fundamental to what they are. Integrating modern art allows whole new interpretations of the past, new ways of viewing history and art and the ability to bring these buildings to brand new audiences.
For more information see…
The photos and videos are all mine apart from:
The inside of the Forum, which can be found at http://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g255100-d258068-i46387954-Forum_Melbourne-Melbourne_Victoria.html#85255678
The Exhibition Building which can be found at http://museumvictoria.com.au/reb/
The Tom Roberts painting which can be found at http://www.aph.gov.au/Visit_Parliament/Parliament_House_Art_Collection/Tom_Roberts_Big_Picture