The artists’ view

By GREG COOK  |  November 30, 2006

So what about the ICA’s new glass-and-steel palace? Things look auspicious, according to Cambridge architect Hank Reisen, who has studied feng shui, the Chinese practice of design and arrangement to promote harmony and good fortune, since 1979 and consulted on Buddhist centers including Forest Refuge in Barre.

The new ICA embraces Boston Harbor, in feng shui the source of Boston’s energy and wealth. And the architecture balances calming gallery design with the tension of a seemingly teetering, cantilevered top floor and forced perspective of views from a media lab hung underneath.

“In traditional Chinese feng shui,” Reisen explains, “if they were trying to make a temple or residence, what they’re after is harmony and stability. In this case there is a perceived tension in that cantilever. It’s dynamic; it’s not stable. The big gesture of that building, that cantilever, changes your perception. Which is very consistent with the nature of modern art, the whole point of which is to change the way you see the world.”

In other words, the ICA’s feng shui bodes well not because it’s perfectly harmonious but because it offers spaces (and art) to challenge and unbalance you and then spaces where you can find your footing again — just what a contemporary-art museum should do.

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