When you live in rural Pennsylvania and you regularly pass a billboard for a contest in which you will win "A Free Handgun!" and then you one day mysteriously pass a nearby billboard that says "The Prints of Andy Warhol" with little else than a big purple square and the name of a museum...one gets intrigued. Then you find out that the little museum mentioned on the billboard, The Reading Public Museum, exists in acres of park, along with a planetarium (where I WILL live out my Pink Floyd laser light show dream!) on lush well manicured grounds it makes you start to remember that there are all kinds of ways to look at art and strolling along a babbling brook with mallards in the parking lot beats a lot of the over crowded, mob mentality major-city mega-museums we've become accustomed to.
The Brooks Museum in Memphis, Tennessee boasts of a zoo and a bandshell on its grounds, the IMA in Indianapolis has tons of land dotted with fountains and an outdoor amphitheater that they are desperately (and successfully!) trying to curate into shows, The Art Institute of Chicago and the Albright Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY also are set aside parks both originally intended as part of world's fair pavilions. Almost all of these museums were constructed at the beginning of the 20th Century, or the close of the 19th, and I really wonder what caused this push towards cultural & land preservation?
Teddy spearheaded the National Parks system, his tactics inspiring conservation in all aspects of the nation. Then there was the increase in media, film and photography made distinctly modern American culture broadcast and admired throughout the globe creating culture into a new kind of commodity that the country felt the need to protect/support. Increasing industrialization most likely opened up money for these types of legacy projects...and maybe the rise in smokestacks had something to do with the decision to put these museums in pastoral settings. All of these reasons are so similar to our current climate (environmental concern, faster information exchange, the divide of the super-rich) which makes the newest addition to the American Museum roster, Crystal Bridges (an institution celebrating the art of America set atop a river in a rolling Southern Ozrak expanse), make all the more sense...Here are some photos of the grounds of The Reading Public Museum, a nice breath of fresh air that I hope will return as a trend in the new culture landscape, a pleasing setting that I have found myself retreating to the more crowded, and crowd pleasing, the New York museum scene becomes...!