Architecture – Design – Art – Napa Valley – California
Among contemporary art collectors – a world where more is more these days – having your own private art gallery designed by an architect is nothing new. But hiding it in the side of a mountain is.
Norman and Norah Stone – collectors from San Francisco whose well-known collections include works by artists from Donald Judd and Richard Serra to Robert Gober and Mike Kelley, as well as a growing collection of works by younger artists like Keith Tyson – ended up with a lot of art and nowhere to show it all, especially the larger pieces, like Vito Acconci’s âadjustable brasâ. (Their home in San Francisco was already loaded with art.) Their 17-acre weekend venue in Napa Valley offered a lot of land, but the Stones didn’t want a tall building that disrupted the harmony of this. which was already on the property, including a surprisingly modest farmhouse from 1887 (filled with art, of course), a vineyard, a stand of redwoods, a sculpture by Cady Noland, and a striking pool and pavilion that were a collaboration between artist James Turrell, architect Jim Jennings and Tom Leader, who designed the property’s landscape. The solution to this problem came, and rightly so, in the wine trade. The Stones had seen a number of their friends and neighbors’ wine cellars, which are all the rage right now, and when they looked up the hill on their own grounds, Norah recalled, âwe thought, Cave Art. ” So the couple got a building big enough to show off their art, but so cleverly hidden away that it’s hard to know it’s there.
In keeping with their interest in younger, lesser-known artists, the Stones hired three young New York architects – Tim Bade, Jane Stageberg and Martin Cox, of Bade Stageberg Cox – on the recommendation of Thea Westreich, who served as artistic advisor to the Stones for 17 years. (Westreich’s husband and business partner Ethan Wagner coined the name “Stonescape” to describe the entire property.) Westreich had known Cox in particular for some time and said “he was extremely sensitive to the ‘art and volume – and that’s what the cave is. Hiring a star architect may have been easy, but the results may not have been so favorable to the art. The Stones explains. Westreich, “felt that the collection would distinguish the project, not the other way around.”
As it turns out, the cave’s architecture is very genteel – it’s a cool and elegantly proportioned backdrop for art, but it’s powerful in itself. Two understated portals, flanked by Cor-Ten steel panels that will rust until almost invisible in the landscape, lead, through smaller galleries, into (and out of) the main space of the 5,750-foot cave. square, which is 114 feet long, 27 feet wide and 23 feet high. A series of “pockets” have been carved into the barrel vault of the ceiling to conceal the fixtures that subtly wash walls and artwork with uniform light. (Renfro Design Group was the lighting consultant.)
As Baden points out, the cave – a primitive form of shelter – was created using sophisticated computer technology. After being excavated, the cave was surveyed with laser equipment and the investigation was presented to the architects in the form of a three-dimensional digital file, which was then used to refine the design.
The cave is not open to the public, but its exhibits will change to reflect the evolution of the Stones’ collections. Although this is not a small undertaking, the results are refreshing and unostentatious. As Westreich has said of his clients: âThey are not your typical collectors, so why would they build a typical monument for themselves?