The passing of I.M. Pei brings back a flood of memories about the fabulous architect who elevated museum architecture to a “pilgrimage phenomenon,” where visiting a museum has almost as much to do with the architecture as it does with the art collection within.
My first experience with the Pei family was in the late 1980s when I.M. Pei’s sister visited my upstate New York museum, The Hyde Collection, in Glens Falls. She was extremely animated as she toured the art collection within the small Italian Renaissance-styled villa. I had earlier appealed to her brother, among other noted architects, to undertake an expansion of the historical structure, because we were seeking to enhance the museum to allow new audiences to visit the static small art museum. She said “my brother couldn’t do this museum justice.” Later, Pei’s partner, Henry Cobb, declined the challenge, explaining that The Hyde project was too small for the firm to undertake. While there was a bit of a disappointment, we awarded the project to Edward Larrabee Barnes who designed a fabulous addition to the famed regional art museum. Ten years later I had the distinct honor of meeting Pei himself at the Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens in Washington, D.C., where I was its executive director, having left The Hyde in 1990. I remember vividly in 2003 when we were in the museum’s Japanese-styled gardens chatting excitedly about the status of modern architecture and his reason for being in D.C., for he was there to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his fabulous East Building of the National Gallery of Art.
The world lost one of its greatest architects, a man who brought contemporary design into staid classical museum architecture, be it the National Gallery or the Louvre Museum in Paris!
Fred Fisher, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania