Archive for July, 2010

Masterpieces Shine Brightest in Great Frames

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

Quick, do you know what the frame around the Mona Lisa looks like?  If the framer did a good job, the answer is no.  Frames, after all, aren’t what most people consider when they look at art – they want to enjoy the art itself.

Here is the Mona Lisa in its proper frame…

Mona Lisa

If the frame was, however, so big that it overwhelmed the painting, like this…

Mona Lisa in wrong frame

or loudly colored, like this…

Mona Lisa in wrong frame

nobody would see the painting at all.  It would be lost in an inappropriate context.

Framing is tricky business.  While not the central focus of an art-lover’s enjoyment, a well-chosen, correctly sized and colored frame subtly enhances a beautiful work.  Frames both distinguish art from that which surrounds it and provide context.  They act as mediators between the specialized realm of art and the workaday world in which we conduct our lives.

St. Louis is blessed with a magnificent work of art that has become its icon: the Gateway Arch.  People worldwide recognize the monument as one of the greatest architectural achievements of the 20th century.  And with the Framing a Modern Masterpiece competition currently underway, beautiful new enhancements will soon join our city’s defining image in its sylvan setting.

Importantly, the title of the competition itself addresses the subtle but critical issue of framing.  As the primary “context” for the Arch grounds, Interstate 70 is a poorly chosen frame.  Instead of enhancing the experience of the Memorial and its grounds, it is a jarring distraction from the beauty it surrounds, and the elevated lanes reinforce and extend that divisive tone northward.  A transitional zone – an urban boulevard – would create subtler, more elegant and more integrated transitions between the growing bustle of downtown and the serenity of the Arch grounds.

Later this summer, design teams will propose wonderful enhancements to this iconic American space – perhaps new plantings and water features, or a new museum, or waterfront aquarium.  Simultaneously rethinking the frame will offer them all a new context; a context that will essentially disappear into the fabric of the city and rightfully shine the spotlight on the Arch grounds and the riverfront itself.  A context scaled to human beings.  One that encourages interaction instead of inhibiting it.  One that draws both tourists and locals closer to the monument, and the monument closer to the city returning to life around it.  Careful, thoughtful attention to the frame will make the masterpiece that is the Gateway Arch and everything around it shine that much more brightly in the reflections on the Mississippi River.