Terence Riley, architectural force in the museum world, dies at 66
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Terence Riley, architectural force in the museum world, dies at 66
A view of the new wing of the Museum of Modern Art as seen from the sculpture garden, in New York, Nov. 10, 2004. Terence Riley, who as the chief curator of architecture and design at the MoMA helped select and guide the Tokyo-based architect Yoshio Taniguchi in MoMA’s $858-million expansion that was completed in 2004, died at the age of 66 on Monday, May 17, 2021, at his home in Miami. Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times.

by James S. Russell

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Terence Riley, who as an architectural curator and museum director was instrumental in bringing to fruition two of the most important works of 21st-century museum architecture, died Monday at his home in Miami. He was 66.

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 in New York City, Riley helped select and guide the Tokyo-based architect Yoshio Taniguchi in MoMA’s $858 million expansion, which was completed in 2004.

Later, as director of the Pérez Art Museum Miami, he worked with the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron to create a new home for the museum that has been acclaimed for its design and integration into its environment. Along with his museum duties, Riley maintained an architectural practice, founded in 1984, with John Keenen.

“He always impressed me with his wicked sense of humor and his fierce intelligence,” said MoMA director Glenn Lowry. “He seemed to remember details about every architect he ever talked to.”

In his 15 years at MoMA, Riley curated shows on Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe that shed new light on those quintessential modern architects. He engaged contemporary themes in several exhibitions: “The Un-Private House” (1999), “Light Construction” (1995) and “Tall Buildings” (2004), which brought attention to architects such as Kazuo Sejima, Toyo Ito and Jeanne Gang, who were not yet well known.

As MoMA proceeded with its massive expansion in the early 2000s, Riley asked 10 international architects of widely varying fame and sensibility to prepare sketchbook designs, which he then displayed at the museum. The invitees included Taniguchi, an architect little known outside his native Japan. Riley urged the museum to accept his design, which reorganized the daunting tangle of additions to the museum home, originally built in 1939, into a coherent whole.

Riley’s role in the project, said Lowry, “was to talk with the curators about their ideas and find the right language for Yoshio to understand what they meant.”

With overlapping slabs of silvery 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 taller and more generously proportioned galleries permitted a refreshingly varied mounting of art, more visual breathing room for each piece 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 works of architecture to rise in this city in at least a generation” and “a near-perfect example of how architecture can be forceful without competing with the art it enfolds.”

Terence Riley was born Nov. 6, 1954, in Elgin, Illinois, to Philip and Mary Jo (Lundberg) Riley. His mother was a homemaker; his father ran a printing business. Terence earned a bachelor of architecture degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master of science in architecture and urban planning from Columbia University.

He is survived by two brothers, Dennis and Brian.

Riley’s curatorial work began when he was chosen to run the Arthur Ross Gallery at Columbia, an exhibition space devoted to architecture. His work there drew the attention of Philip Johnson, who had founded MoMA’s architecture department. Riley was brought into the department and became the chief curator for architecture and design in 1991.

Later in his tenure he helped start the MoMA/P.S. 1 Young Architects Program, which showcased early-career architects. Given small grants, the chosen architects created immersive environments in the courtyard of the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, Queens. The exposure and MoMA imprimatur helped launch influential firms such as SHoP Architects and Workac.

“It was his most innovative brainchild,” said Barry Bergdoll, a Columbia professor in architectural history who succeeded Riley as chief architecture curator at MoMA.

Riley left MoMA in early 2006 to become director of the Miami Art Museum, which was subsequently renamed the Pérez Art Museum. He raised its profile with a series of well-received exhibitions, and embarked on an ambitious plan to build a new home for the museum next to Biscayne Bay. He brought in Herzog & de Meuron to design it.

“Jaques Herzog told me the real reason he wanted to do this museum was to work with Terry,” said Mary Frank, who was about to become the museum’s board president at the time.

The museum needed to augment public funds with more than $100 million in private gifts, but fundraising lagged, and the project took years. Finally, with plans in place, Riley stepped down in 2009, returning to the Miami office he had opened for his architecture practice.

The Miami museum, at a cost of $220 million, opened in 2013, a design striking for its broad concrete-beam roof overhangs latticed with wood from which long tubes of plantings are suspended like gentle draperies. The overhangs and plantings protect glass walls and outdoor decks — beloved by the public — from the searing sun.

The current director, Franklin Sirmans, said Riley had guided the architects in making a building well suited to Miami.

“The building never imposes itself upon you,” Sirmans said. “It’s not a museum where you stand 56 inches away from a painting and just appreciate. He envisioned a constantly active institution, a community center that is connected to our day-to-day surroundings.”

After Riley left the museum, he and Keenen continued to work on projects in Miami, including with developer Craig Robins, who wanted to channel the energy unleashed by the Miami Art Basel art fairs. “Terry was the architect, but they were also an alliance, scheming together,” said Paola Antonelli, a senior curator at MoMA who remained close to Riley.

Robins, through his company, Dacra, transformed a neighborhood of anonymous product showrooms into the city’s Design District, mixing artists with splashy designer boutiques and restaurants. “He saw that art and design would be the new rock stars,” Keenen said.

Keenen/Riley’s latest project for Robins was the Museum Garage, whose facade is wrapped with exuberant decorative works by architects curated by Riley.

“Terry loved design, but he also loved the often complicated process of getting things built,” Keenen said. “He had more patience than I ever did, as well as the mind and people skills to see things through.”

© 2021 The New York Times Company

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