Architect For Art: Max Gordon

by | 23. Aug 2012


Photo © Todd Eberle. Fisher Landau Center for Art, Long Island City

As an architect, collector, and friend of the most influential artists of the 1970s and 1980s, Gordon is a key figure in the history of late-twentieth-century art and architecture.

Gordon set up his own practice in 1981 and died nine years later at the age of fifty-nine having created an architectural legacy in New York and London that has remained an ever-present influence on the display of contemporary art. His brilliance converting industrial spaces for the display of art, and in particular his renowned design for the first Saatchi Gallery, were forces leading to the Tate Modern.

Max manipulated the space, as he always did, so that it looked as if it couldn’t have been arranged any other way. The “rooms” he formed never appeared forced or awkward and flowed naturally from one to the next. At Boundary Road, he created five galleries, each with it’s own character.
/Doris Lockhart Saatchi

Photo: Doris Lockhart Saatchi. Saatchi Gallery, 98a Boundary Road, London. Paintings by Andy Warhol in Gallery Two.

His architectural maxim can best be summed up in the phrase “no trim.” Make everything as simple and functional as possible, highlight the art not the architecture; use light to create space – principles that remain as relevant as ever.

I learned so much from him; the moment you touch too much, you destroy. Preserve the beauty that is there. Use natural light if possible; don’t close the windows because daylight is better.
/Carmen Gimenez

Photo: Rafael S. Lobato. Gallery designed for the Museo Reina Sofia, with Richard Serra’s “Equal-Parallel; Guernica Bengasi,” 1986.

I remember Max walking around the space. It had been a sweatshop, where the ballgowns were made and altered, and was very messy. Within a few minutes Max drew the basic plan on the inside of a cigarette pack. I questioned whether the partition for the office should be on the other side of the beam. Max said no, and it turned out that he was right.
/David Juda

Photo courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art. Annely Juda Fine Art, London. View of the main gallery with paintings by Prunella Clough.

Seven of his major works are featured including the homes of several art collectors, as well as Gordon’s own home at 120 Mount Street in London. He had an enormous circle of friends, admirers and acquaintances in New York, Los Angeles, London, and Europe who sought his advice, came to his famous parties, and were encouraged to get things to happen.

He stayed with us all the way, from demolition through the installation of furniture. It was not always easy. Jackie, you must have standards,” he would say. The house included some signature Gordonisms like the Synskin columns of light. Other designs he created for us he repeated for other clients. He made us part of his lexicon and his legacy – the result of a rare response to architectural problems and respect for others, even clients.
/ Jackie Brody 

Photo: John M. Hall Photographs. Brody House, New York, parlor floor with Ellsworth Kelly’s “White Brown, “1968.

Over lunch I told Max we were planning to sell our apartment and wanted him to design our home. He responded, “How can you sell that apartment? It’s my favorite in the world.” Susan then outlined her vision: a U-shaped house facing south for sun, with a patio inside the U and an adjacent garden. As we left, I asked Max if he had ever built a house before and the answer seemed to be “no.” However, that did not deter us in the least.
/Lewis Manilow

Manilow House, Chicago, exterior eastern view from the street.

gordon_7.jpgPhoto © 2004 Waye Cable. Manilow House, Chicago, second-floor gallery.

He had an abhorrence of corridors: “They are an English disease. To walk through a corridor to get from one room to another seems absolutely crazy.” So he did away with them in his flat, in the process doing away with almost all the dividing walls to leave a nearly open space and, at its core, a stately ship-like funnel containing the building’s main stairwell and elevator.
/Doris Lockhart Saatchi

Photo from World of Interiors, 1982. Gordon’s private residence at 120 Mount Street, London. Matt Rugg’s “Smoke Stack,” 1966, center.

Max was a creator of beautiful and functional spaces and an inspiration to artists, designers, museum curators, and lovers of contemporary art. This is a personal book that includes Max’s sketches and humorous cartoons. He was a much-loved figure, and this is reflected in the warmth with which he is written about and described.
/David Gordon (Max Gordon’s brother)
Former director of the Milwaukee Art Museum

Max Gordon, 1985. © Yoshihiko Ueda


Max Gordon’s tenure on the Tate’s Patrons of New Art committee led to the establishment of the prestigious Turner Prize in 1984. He was on the Museum of Modern Art’s prestigious International Council and was the only non-American to serve on the Museum’s trustee committee on architecture and design.