Image courtesy of the ROM.
On Friday, as part of Doors Open, the ROM hosted “The Bold Museum”: an informal discussion between Kenton Vaughan (the director of The Museum, a documentary on the construction of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal) and Kelvin Browne (the author of Bold Visions: The Architecture of the Royal Ontario Museum). We had high hopes for the event, as the ROM’s transformation is beautifully explored in Browne and Vaughan’s work, but instead of sharing their knowledge, the two spent the night discussing the merits of their creations, rather than the substance of them.
The presentation part of the evening was only saved by Browne and Vaughan’s anecdotes about Daniel Libeskind, the crystal’s lead architect, and his giant ego. According to Browne, after Bold Visions was published, the museum hosted a book signing with Libeskind and himself. There, Libeskind, in top form, happily chatted up the book’s merits and signed dozens of copies, before revealing to Browne that he had never even read it. Both Browne and Vaughan seemed to agree that Libeskind, while brilliant, was somewhat of a pompous phony. “He’s amazingly poetic,” laughed Browne. “But a lot of what he says doesn’t make sense.” Like us, the audience also enjoyed hearing about Libeskind’s foibles and responded with roars of laughter every time the world-renowned architect was roasted.
Even after two years, though, the crystal can still induce rage. The most dramatic part of the evening came at the end of the question-and-answer period, when a man at the back of the crowd leapt to his feet and demanded that the hosts justify the crystal’s high cost. Several other audience members also voiced their disdain. We felt sorry for Browne and Vaughan, as they were treated like the crystal’s creators instead of its historians. When he was designing the crystal, Libeskind said that he wanted a building that would evoke controversy and discussion and stay in the public’s minds for years to come; it looks like, for better or worse, he got his wish.