December 15, 2005
Friends of David Whitney, the respected
art curator who died last June, launched a building fund in
his honor at New Yorks Gagosian Gallery on December
9. It will aid reconstruction of the Ohr-OKeefe museum,
in Biloxi, Miss. The Museum, designed by Frank Gehry, FAIA,
was headed toward a July 2006 opening when it received substantial
damage during Hurricane Katrina.
The centerpieces of the 25,000-square-foot
museum were four podlike gallery pavilions to show the work
of George E. Ohr (1857-1918), the famed mad potter of
Biloxi. Ohr is celebrated as one of Americas first
ceramic fine artists. Flamboyant and mercurial, Ohr made the
act of throwing pots a performance, producing colorful vases,
bowls and pots pinched and ruffled into shapes of impressive
delicacy. Whitney was consulting curator for the museums
inaugural exhibition when he died. Whitney was also a prominent
art collector, and the long-time life partner of architect
David was a great friend,
said Gehry, standing by an architectural model of the complex
at the Fund launch. I will do whatever it takes to get
this institution back on its feet.
Gehrys design included six twisting,
metal-clad pavilions arranged around 26 ancient live oaks
on a four-acre site. The gallery "pods are like
curved silos, and the rest are boxy pavilions with overlapping
curved-metal roofs. Gehry used elements found in local architecture,
such as porches and open-air belvederes, on each pavilion.
A casino barge blown onshore by the storm
crushed a pavilion devoted to African-American folk art and
history. The unfinished gallery pods were seriously damaged.
The storm also destroyed the Pleasant Reed House, an 1887
shotgun house that had been moved to the site.
A center for ceramics, which included storm-resistant storage
was only slightly damaged. Pavilions designed to house artists-in-residence
and education programs were also damaged. The Ohr pottery
collection was offsite during the storm and was not harmed.
Insurance will cover much of the damage
according to Gerald OKeefe, who once the mayor of Biloxi
and helped launch the museum with a substantial early gift.
The David Whitney Fund will specifically aid the reconstruction
of the gallery pods. The museum project was budgeted at $30
million. It is unclear how much additional money will need
to be raised to upgrade storm resistance. The museum now expects
to reopen in about two years.