The Biomuseo in Panama boasts a colorful, angled exterior design that incorporates open-air space, walls of windows, and indoor and outdoor exhibition areas. Architect Frank Gehry is responsible for the Biomuseo’s structure, and the museum is his only work in Latin America and in the tropics. Branching off from the atrium of the museum are the surrounding eight galleries, currently in various stages of completion. The vibrant colors and metallic sheets reference Panamanian cultural elements; the composition of the building’s structural elements is reminiscent of some of Gehry’s other notable works. The intersections are complex and recapitulate the idea of emergent properties of ecosystems.
Panama: The Bridge of Life is the Biomuseo’s permanent exhibition, featuring a variety of installation techniques for illustrating the origin of the Panamanian Isthmus and its impact on biodiversity and the history of the earth. The introductory stretch of hallway into this gallery (guided by an audio recording, complete with passages from E. O. Wilson) fleshed out the significance of diverse organismal life. For us the rhetoric is familiar, and there’s some amount of comfort in seeing a community-oriented place embracing the mission of environmental stewardship and ecological awareness. Along the way are photographs, an installation of wood panels etched with organism images, and display cases highlighting some of the research currently being done on species of the region. One display in particular contained a note on International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups and bioprospecting. The hallway also included placards for tropical species with their status (endangered, threatened, extinct, etc.) noted in text and indicated by color.
The Worlds Collide portion of the exhibition is filled with white, fiberglass-epoxy animals carefully and attentively detailed by hand. The markmaking on the surfaces of the animals– feathers, fur, wrinkled skin, scales, and more– has all been done manually to these aesthetically-appealing renditions of extinct and extant (i.e., still alive today) of species.
According to our tour guide, we should “come back in two years.” The Biomuseum is currently awaiting the construction of another sculptural exhibit that visualizes the importance of plants and photosynthetic life in the environment, as well as the marine aquariums displaying life from both coasts of Panama.