The Newseum (which is just what it sounds like) opened in the nation's capital last weekend in a prominent spot along Pennsylvania Avenue. Times' architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff found the design by turns "muddled" and "slapdash," but really disapproved of the political messages he managed to discern in a 9-11 exhibit titled "Attack on America," whichOuroussoff found to border "precariously on jingoism."
From his Friday review, "Get Me Rewrite: A New Monument to Press Freedom."
In another convoluted move, the museum exhibits the front pages of scores of daily newspapers along the street each day. At first it seems to be a salute to the newspaper's traditional function in a democratic society, and pedestrians seem to love it. But the row of newspapers is oddly punctuated by a pedantic display explaining its meaning.
This doctrinaire approach to history continues throughout the interior. The lobby, named for the family that publishes The New York Times (The New York Times Company is a donor to the museum), is a multistory glass atrium flanked by suspended walkways. A heavy staircase tumbles down one side; a glass elevator is set behind the ticket desk on the other. Visitors are meant to ride the elevator up to the top and spiral down through the galleries, as they do in Frank Lloyd Wright's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. But here the journey is freighted with artifice. Working with the exhibition designer Ralph Appelbaum Associates, Mr. Polshek creates a sequence of rooms and walkways that pull you along through the sweep of journalism history. Visitors step past a fragment of the Berlin Wall and then ride a glass elevator alongside a menacing guard tower. On the top floor they are confronted with part of a rusted, mangled broadcast antenna from the World Trade Center, part of the exhibition "Attack on America."
The juxtaposition is startling, but also borders precariously on jingoism. The suggestion is that the values of a free press and a free market are one and the same. This sentiment is made explicit in an exhibit of a map of the world in which countries are color-coded according to their level of press freedom. America is green; Russia and China, red.