If churches and cathedrals once stood at the top of the architectural hierarchy, today the museum is the building form that every serious architect dreams of designing. The financial Medicis of the 21st Century are not throwing much money at religious institutions – but a new museum, especially one offering naming rights, can attract the sort of budget that would once have been reserved for a cathedral.
And on our relationship to art :
The art museum has supplanted the church as the pinnacle of architectural ambition, but a more curious ecclesiastical shift may be taking place inside the museum’s walls. These days we frequently use religious language when talking about art. We make ‘pilgrimages’ to museums or to landmarks of public art in far-off locales. We experience ‘transcendence’ before major paintings or large-scale installations. Especially important works – Mona Lisa at the Louvre, most famously – are often displayed in their own niches rather than in historical presentations, all the better for genuflection. What is the busiest day of the week for most contemporary art museums? That would be Sunday: the day we used to reserve for another house of worship.