In 2003 the Austrian city of Graz, sited on the Mur River, was designated European Capital of Culture. The honour lasts one calendar year during which the anointed city overdoses on art in all its forms.
As part of the celebrations, the good burghers of Graz decided they needed a new art gallery, specifically one to display contemporary art. The result was Kunsthaus Graz, one of a new generation of radical, spunky, architectural structures that have sprouted up across Europe in recent years, much like mushrooms after warm summer rain.
English architects Peter Cook and Colin Fournier won the commission that required them to house architecture, design, new media, internet art, film and photography under a single roof. They opted for blobitecture. That’s the one that yields organic, amoeba-like forms.
They dubbed their result “The Friendly Alien” — 5000 sq m of steel, foamglass and acrylics following an arbitrarily curved surface. It sure provides a sharp contrast to the baroque cityscape it inhabits. Despite its size and dominance, it works. In seven short years it has become an accepted landmark, despite its alien form.
From the outside, the most distinctive feature of the gallery is the acrylic glass BIX Media Facade that occupies the eastern side of the building overlooking the Mur and city centre. This is a product developed by Berlin designers realities:united, and is a fusion of architecture with media technology. The name BIX itself is a blend of BIG and PIXELS. In effect, the wall is an oversize screen designed for artistic productions.
This BIX system has become the international benchmark in successfully fusing architecture, art and the media in a single medium. It has been incorporated in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, but somehow I don’t think it would be allowed in Kiwiland. The neighbours would be sure to object. And I can’t see it making it past the Resource Management Act.
Kunsthaus Graz is devoted to the art of the last four decades — from the swinging sixties on. It doesn’t collect. It maintains no permanent exhibitions. It has no permanent collection at its disposal. It undertakes no research. It simply presents contemporary art productions.
It is part of the Joanneum Museum complex of Graz which last year celebrated the 200th anniversary of its founding in 1811.