In the March 6th, 2006 issue of New York magazine, Mark Stevens reviews the new Edvard Munch exhibition at MoMA (New York) and comments: “His pictures look best in the close bourgeois rooms in which he grew up. In a tamped-down space, they have an explosive intensity. The MoMA installation—white galleries, high ceilings, open spaces—does not suit him....It dissipates his force.”
This comment resonates with me, as one who has an obsession about the placement of artwork. Some works do look better in more human-scale environments. One of the reasons that people enjoy the Barnes Foundation near Philadelphia is the relatively intimate atmosphere in which works by van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, and others are displayed. (Here's a photo of a Barnes gallery from James Wagner's site.) A similar intimacy is found at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. And in Victoria Newhouse's recent book, Art and the Power of Placement, there is a mid-20th Century photograph of the Ben Heller apartment in which the art IS the environment. It's sensational—although of course the public was excluded. That's why we need museums. But I wish more of them were scaled to the art rather than to the egos of the architect, the donors, and the trustees.