Charles Saumarez Smith and Richard Rand will present at the Museum Conversations Seminar. Charles Saumarez Smith will discuss his forthcoming book The Art Museum in Modern Times (Thames and Hudson, 2021), Richard Rand will offer a response.


About the Book

A compelling examination of the art museum, this sweeping book explores how the architecture, vision, funding, and public role of art museums around the world have been transformed—and considers their future in a new era of pandemic and uncertainty.

The Art Museum in Modern Times starts with the Museum of Modern Art in New York, one of the first to focus squarely on the art of the present. When it opened in 1939, MoMA’s boldly modernist building represented a stark riposte to the neoclassicism of many earlier museums. From there, Saumarez Smith embarks on an odyssey to forty-two museums across the globe, including Tate Modern in London, the Louisiana in Humlebæk, the Benesse House Museum on the Japanese island of Naoshima—exploring the motivation of their donors and museum directors, and the ways in which an architect turned their aims and aspirations into magnificent buildings for the display of art.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the architects were modernists, including Frank Lloyd Wright at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Carlo Scarpa at the Castelvecchio Museum in Verona, Marcel Breuer at the Whitney Museum in New York, and Mies van der Rohe in Berlin. During the 1970s, Richard Rogers and Norman Foster changed the conventions of museums by treating the Centre Pompidou and the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich as hi-tech sheds with movable walls and wide-open gallery spaces. The book focuses on two key museum monuments of the 1990s—the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao—and then the reaction to these big projects in lighter weight and more ethereal museums designed by Peter Zumthor, SANAA, and David Chipperfield, such as LACMA, Los Angeles, and The Hepworth Wakefield.

Saumarez Smith casts an acute eye on the ways in which the experience of art is shaped by the nature of the buildings that house it and the organizing principles by which it is displayed. He traces a radical shift from a belief that museums can and should instruct and educate to the idea that museums should be more about contemplation, spectacle and individual experience.


Charles Saumarez Smith is a writer and art historian who has been Director of the National Portrait Gallery in London, Director of the National Gallery, and, most recently, Secretary and Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Arts. His first book was The Building of Castle Howard published in 1990, which won the Alice Davis Hitchcock Medallion. In 1994, he published Eighteenth-Century Decoration: Design and the Domestic Interior in England. Since then, he has published books on the National Portrait Gallery (1997), the National Gallery (2009), the Royal Academy (The Company of Artists (2014)), and East London (2017). He is currently the chairman of the Royal Drawing School, a trustee of the Garden Museum, a member of the curatorial committee of the Design Museum, Professor of Architectural History at the Royal Academy, and an Honorary Professor in the School of History at Queen Mary University of London

Richard Rand is the Associate Director for Collections at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Previously, he served as the Robert and Martha Berman Lipp Senior Curator of Paintings and Sculpture at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.


This event will be held via Zoom. A link will be circulated to registrants by 3 pm on the day of the event.