Museums of the City

Florence, David Gissen, 2011 (project renderer, Victor Hadjikyriacou)

I’m very happy to announce — and give a small preview of — my contribution to an upcoming exhibition curated by Geoff Manaugh for the Center for Art and Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art. Manaugh has developed the exhibition over the past two years, and it includes the work of architects, landscape architects, and artists, such as David Benjamin & Soo-in Yang (The Living), Mark Smout & Laura Allen (Smout Allen), Mason White & Lola Sheppard (Lateral Office), Chris Woebken, and Liam Young. I’m excited to participate, and I am even more excited that I am the one architectural historian invited to produce work for this exhibition.

Manaugh describes the exhibition — “Landscape Futures: Instruments, Devices and Architectural Inventions” — as an exploration of how:

“planetary landscapes, and our perceptions of them, can be utterly transformed by technology and design. Specifically, it will investigate the shifting terrains of architectural invention, where the construction of new spatial devices on a variety of scales, from the inhabitable to the portable, can uncover previously inaccessible aspects of the built and natural environments. The devices on display—and the traces they reveal—will thus demonstrate that the landscape around us is like sheet music: an interpretive repository of bewildering variation that can be captured and made visible (even audible) through the perceptual instruments and recording devices that we invent.”

Central Park, David Gissen, 2011 (project renderer, Victor Hadjikyriacou)

My contribution, titled “Museums of the City” investigates how the type of lights, vitrines, podia, stanchions, and scaffolds used to protect, maintain, and visualize historical objects within museums might migrate out into the city at large. I believe that what we understand to constitute material history is very often the “stuff” (art, objects, nature) that we carefully illuminate in a museum, prohibit people from touching in public space, place in controlled environments in archives, and conserve in often highly visible ways. To provide a simple comparative example, the difference in an American urban zoo between a parrot and a pigeon is very often that one is behind glass and one is not. Both are significant to natural and social history, but only one is imaged in this way, within this particular context. “Museums of the City” examines the potential power embedded in the architectural formations that make matter into objects of history, and how this can be turned into a more public, monumental, and external form.

Thames, David Gissen, 2011 (project renderer, Victor Hadjikyriacou)

Within four images we witness the repositioning of the inconspicuous interior architecture that one finds within a fine art, history, or natural history museum in the urban outdoors. Out in the city, we see these frameworks oriented towards a variety of important human made and natural urban landscapes. Surrounding these sites we see the type of spot-lit, vitrine-encased, light controlled, and scaffold laden environments that visualize and maintain important objects, protect them from people and time, and that situate them as opportunities for reflection. What matters as much as the sites I focus on in the city (urban rivers, highways, monuments, verdure), is the apparatus that transforms urban stuff into objects of our interest.

Cross Bronx Expressway, David Gissen, 2011 (project renderer, Victor Hadjikyriacou). Background photograph "Cross-Bronx Expressway, View East at the Jerome Avenue Overpass at Night, 2006" used with the kind permission of Andrew Moore

The exhibition opens on August 13, 2011 to February 12, 2012. I hope you can make the trip to Reno to see this and the other works on display.

The “Museums of the City” contribution was generously sponsored by the Nevada Museum of Art’s Center for the Art and Environment and the California College of the Arts Chalsty Fund.


  1. Hi David- I definitely share your interests in the frameworks and apparati of museums and the potential for their repositioning in the city. I did a project back in 2005-06 called the “Museum for Missing Places” that you might find interesting. The project was specifically about Houston, an intensely privatized city where museums have proven to be the most viable form of public space. Good luck with your work.

  1. 1 Convidat #263. David Gissen: Preservació d’infraestructures | Quaderns

    […] “Cross-Bronx Expressway” David Gissen con Victor Hadjikyriacou, 2011. Parte de la muestra Landscape Futures: Instruments, Devices and Architectural Inventions, Nevada Museum of Art (August 13, 2011–February 12, 2012) Imagen de fondo cortesía de Andrew […]

  2. 2 Architectural formations that make matter into objects of history | NuzaRazzi

    […] Two glimpses of “Museums of the City” by David Gissen (renderings by Victor Hadjikyriacou), commissioned by the Nevada Museum of Art for […]

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