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MSU's Broad Art Museum marks 10 years with works by its famed architect, Zaha Hadid

The Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University is 10 years old now, and it’s celebrating with a huge exhibition featuring works by the building’s architect, Zaha Hadid.

The museum’s ultra-modern design has not been universally embraced. Critics say it doesn’t fit in with the ivy-covered halls of MSU’s otherwise academic setting. A walk through the current exhibition might help explain Zaha Hadid’s artistic vision for the building and other works she’s known for.

In 2004, Hadid became the first woman ever to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Her designs have been built all over the world; only two others are in America. She died in 2016.

This exhibition reveals the full range of Hadid’s talents. Along with architecture, you see furniture, jewelry, even a little three-wheeled car.

Assistant Broad Art Museum curator Rachel Winter says the car is one of only two Hadid prototypes in the world.

“It is an emission-free car, designed to meet the needs of urban living,” Winter explained. “Its very condensed shape is designed to help you navigate really tight city spaces, to move through small parking lots. It’s designed to be very efficient, but also very good for the environment.”

The car is in the museum’s main gallery, near a tea set that doubles as a puzzle, a chess set, and a granite bookshelf Winter describes as curvilinear.

“This heavy material becomes almost very light and limitless. It’s very different than most bookshelves that we would have,” Winter said. “There’s also a number of chairs right when you enter the gallery that are made of marble, and again, it makes this very hard media look incredibly soft and gentle.”

Yes, they’re chairs, but the museum asks that you not sit on them.

Winter and I move on to the adjacent gallery, featuring an installation called Dune Formation. Its 18 pieces are made of lacquered resin, an orangish-gold in color, evoking the sun beating down on shifting sand.

“Bookshelves are much curvier,” continues Winter. “You have a desk that almost looks like a fin protruding from a wall, you have a cabinet. It’s designed to be a living room installation that, again, someone would use, but of course reflects Hadid’s very unique take on the world.”

On the lower level, the Broad’s new media gallery houses drawings and conceptual models of the museum’s inspiration, construction photos, news reports on the building project, and video interviews with Hadid.

Winter next takes me to the highlight of the museum’s upper level, a Hadid-designed dining room set.

“This gallery shows you a few different things than you’ve seen in other places, like some great vases that are made out of marble but you would never know that they’re made from such a hard material,” Winter said. “There are wonderful lights hanging from the ceiling, and they really illuminate the space and they create a lot of wonderful shadows on the objects that show you how artfully crafted they are.”

Alongside the table and chairs, you’ll find a row of models depicting buildings designed by Hadid, including some that have never been built.

Across the way is a projection room with video showing Hadid’s process. This is the one place where you can sit on the furniture, even move it around to your liking.

There’s a reading corner on one side of these seats, and on the other side are clothes, shoes, sunglasses and more, all with the Hadid touch.

The last gallery on the upper level features fabric and flooring samples, along with objects like electronic control panels and door handles.

Rachel Winter agrees that this exhibition might appeal to people who say they normally don’t appreciate, or even get, modern art.

“Even though it is modern and contemporary art, you can walk here and identify things and relate them to your own experience,” she said. “And from that, we hope that people will see the world around them in different ways, and imagine new possibilities, and I think that this exhibition makes that possible.”

The free exhibition, Zaha Hadid Design: Untold, will be at MSU’s Broad Art Museum until Feb. 12, 2023.

Editor's note: The MSU Broad Art Museum is a financial supporter of WKAR.

Scott Pohl is a general assignment news reporter and produces news features and interviews. He is also an alternate local host on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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