Designed by Tennessee native Randall Stout –– a protégée of celebrated architect Frank Gehry –– the Taubman’s dramatic steel-and-glass façade is strongly reminiscent of Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.
Stout designed the 81,000 square-foot Roanoke facility to “evoke the drama of the mountainous landscape and the gritty industrial-area building culture.” Perhaps. But the design spoke to me on a purely visceral level: I immediately wanted to check out the inside.
The two-story museum’s varied permanent collection spans works by American masters, such as Winslow Homer and Maurice Prendergast; regional artists from the Southeast and the immediate vicinity; and folk and so-called “visionary” artists.
During a recent visit, I especially enjoyed the offbeat wearable “Soundsuits” by Chicago-based artist/dancer Nick Cave (not to be confused with the broody rock star of the same name), which enjoyed a three-month run through the end of 2011.
Currently, the Taubman is showcasing “Watch It! Video Art,” a survey of pioneering video artists, such as Laurie Anderson, William Wegman and Nam June Paik, through Feb. 9; “In the Moment: Light, Vision and Memory,” a survey of 125 years of photos from The Roanoke Times newspaper, through March 4; and “Metempsychosis: The Power of Transformation,” which pairs dissimilar works to spur conversations about art and the world around us, through May 1.
Although the Taubman’s current home is only about three-years-old, the museum’s history can be traced back to the mid-’60s, when the city opened a fine arts center. That facility in 1980 morphed into the Roanoke Museum of Fine Arts, and three years later moved from a location outside the city to downtown’s Center in the Square.
The move to the current downtown site –– and construction of the new building –– was meant to raise the Taubman’s profile, but due to financial issues, the museum has scaled back its ambitions to have more of a regional focus.
Still, for any Roanoke visitor, the Taubman is not to be missed.