Terence Riley, architectural force in the museum world, dies at 66
Terence Riley, who as architectural curator and museum director helped make two of the most important works of 21st century museum architecture, died at his home in Miami on Monday. He was 66 years old.
His family said the death was sudden but did not disclose the cause.
As chief curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art, Mr. Riley helped select and guide Tokyo-based architect Yoshio Taniguchi in MoMA’s $ 858 million expansion, which was completed in 2004.
Later, as director of the Miami Pérez Art Museum, he worked with the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron to create a new house for the museum which was acclaimed for its design and its integration into its environment. In addition to his museum duties, Mr. Riley maintained an architectural firm, founded in 1984, with John Keenen.
“He’s always impressed me with his wicked sense of humor and fierce intelligence,” said Glenn D. Lowry, director of MoMA. “He seemed to remember the details of every architect he had spoken to.
During his 15 years at MoMA, Mr. Riley has curated exhibitions on Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe that shed new light on these quintessential modern architects. He engaged contemporary themes in several exhibitions: “The Un-Private House” (1999), “Light Construction” (1995) and “Tall Buildings” (2004), attracting the attention of architects like Kazuo Sejima, Toyo Ito and Jeanne Gang, who were not yet well known.
As MoMA underwent its massive expansion in the early 2000s, Mr. Riley commissioned 10 international architects of a wide variety of fame and sensibilities to prepare sketchbook designs, which he then exhibited at the museum. Among the guests was Mr. Taniguchi, an architect little known outside his native Japan. Mr Riley urged the museum to embrace his design, which revamped the intimidating tangle of additions to the museum house, originally built in 1939, into a cohesive whole.
Mr. Riley’s role in the project, Mr. Lowry said, “was to talk to the Conservatives about their ideas and find the right language for Yoshio to understand what they meant.
With layered slabs of silver aluminum, black granite and glass, the new MoMA opened in 2004, adding 252,000 square feet for a total of 630,000, all wrapped around a soaring atrium. The larger and more generously proportioned galleries allowed for a varied and refreshing art montage, more visual wiggle room for each room, and more space for the ever-growing crowds of visitors.
Nicolai Ouroussoff, reviewing the building in The New York Times, called it “one of the most exquisite architectural works to rise in this city for at least a generation” and “an almost perfect example of the strength of architecture without competing with the art it contains.
Terence Riley was born on November 6, 1954 in Elgin, Illinois, to Philip and Mary Jo (Lundberg) Riley. His mother was a housewife; his father ran a printing house. Terence received a BA in Architecture from the University of Notre Dame and an MA in Architecture and Urban Planning from Columbia University.
He is survived by two brothers, Dennis and Brian.
Mr. Riley’s curatorial work began when he was chosen to run the Arthur Ross Gallery in Columbia, an exhibition space devoted to architecture. His work there caught the attention of Philip Johnson, who had founded the architectural department of the Museum of Modern Art. Mr. Riley joined the department and became the chief curator of architecture and design in 1991.
Later in his tenure, he helped start the MoMA / PS 1 program for young architects, which featured early career architects. With small grants, the chosen architects created immersive environments in the courtyard of the PS 1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, Queens. MoMA’s exhibition and Imprimatur helped launch influential companies such as SHoP Architects and Workac.
“It was his most innovative child brain,” said Barry Bergdoll, a Columbia professor of architectural history who succeeded Mr. Riley as chief curator of architecture at MoMA.
Mr. Riley left MoMA in early 2006 to become director of the Miami Art Museum (later renamed the Pérez Art Museum). He raised his profile with a series of well-received exhibits and embarked on an ambitious plan to build a new home for the museum next to Biscayne Bay. He called on Herzog & de Meuron to design it.
“Jaques Herzog told me that the real reason he wanted to do this museum was to work with Terry,” said Mary E. Frank, who was about to become chair of the museum’s board at the time.
The museum was supposed to increase public funds with over $ 100 million in private donations, but fundraising was delayed and the project took years. Finally, with the plans in place, Mr. Riley resigned in 2009, returning to the Miami office he had opened for his architectural firm.
The $ 220 million Miami Museum opened in 2013, a striking design for its wide, wooden lattice concrete beam roof overhangs from which long tubes of plantings hang like soft draperies. Overhangs and plantings protect the glass walls and outdoor terraces – popular with the public – from the scorching sun.
Current manager Franklin Sirmans said Mr Riley had guided architects in constructing a well-suited building in Miami.
“The building never imposes itself on you,” he says. “This is not a museum where you stand 56 inches from a painting and just enjoy. He imagined a constantly active institution, a community center connected to our daily environment.
After Mr. Riley left the museum, he and Mr. Keenen continued to work on projects in Miami, including with developer Craig Robins, who wanted to channel the energy released by the Miami Art Basel art fairs. . “Terry was the architect, but they also formed an alliance, acting together,” said Paola Antonelli, senior curator at MoMA, who has remained close to Mr. Riley.
Through his company, Dacra, Mr. Robins has transformed a district of anonymous product showrooms into the city’s design district, mixing artists with designer boutiques and restaurants. “He saw that art and design would be the new rock stars,” Keenen said.
Keenen / Riley’s last project for Mr. Robins was the Museum garage, whose façade is wrapped in exuberant decorative works by architects curated by Mr. Riley.
“Terry loved the design, but he also loved the often complicated process of building things,” said Mr. Keenen. “He had more patience than I ever had, as well as the wit and human skills to see things through.”