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MoMA Expansion

January 16, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments
Concept sketch for The Museum of Modern Art. View from 53rd Street

Concept sketch for The Museum of Modern Art. View from 53rd Street

[Diller Scofidio + Renfro]

Martin Filler, frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books on architecture and art, posted a powerful piece two days ago on the latest expansion plans for the Museum of Modern Art. Here is MoMA’s own presentation of the basic facts:

The Museum of Modern Art is committed to being the most welcoming museum in New York, and to bringing art and people together more effectively than ever before. A major new building project will expand MoMA’s public spaces and galleries, allowing the Museum to reconceive the presentation of its collection and exhibitions and offer a more open, accessible, and engaging experience.

For the past six months, we have been working with the renowned architectural firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro to develop a plan to integrate the current building with two adjoining sites into which the Museum is expanding: three floors of a residential tower being developed by Hines, and the site of the former American Folk Art Museum. After a lengthy and rigorous analysis, we have approved Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s recommendation for a new building on the site of the former museum. Construction will begin in Summer 2014.

So what does this building project mean for the MoMA community? Imagine the entire ground floor—including The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, an expanded and reorganized entrance hall, and a new glass-walled gallery for contemporary art and performance that opens directly onto 53rd Street—reconceived as a free public gathering space. With 40,000 square feet of new galleries providing 30% more space for experiencing MoMA’s collection, we’ll be able to expand our programming, present recent acquisitions, and bring together works from all mediums in new and unexpected ways.

With reimagined and expanded spaces for its ever-changing exhibitions, performances, films, and educational programs, MoMA will provide an even more enlivening and participatory experience, a space for both contemplation and conversation. This vision will be fully realized over the coming years, and we will share more information here as our plans develop.

The shock is MoMA’s willful destruction of the American Folk Art Museum. From Filler:

Last April, MoMA revealed that it would obliterate William and Tsien’s twelve-year-old Folk Art building—which abuts the museum to the west—allegedly because the building’s richly textured bronze façade clashes with MoMA’s predominantly glass street wall on West 53rd Street. (MoMA had acquired the 40-foot-wide building from the financially beleaguered Folk Art museum in 2011 to allow for further expansion.) …

Had MoMA officials been at all serious about integrating Williams and Tsien’s structure into the museum’s multi-architect ensemble—a far-from-uniform expanse that preserves the original 1936–1939 façade by Edward Durell Stone and Philip L. Goodwin as well as the 1964 addition by Philip Johnson, along with Yoshio Taniguchi’s expansion of 1997–2003—they would have engaged the Folk Art building’s original designers, who declared their willingness to retrofit their scheme.

By instead commissioning the “study” from the New York firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who were basking in goodwill after their much-admired High Line and Lincoln Center renovation projects, the museum apparently hoped to ride out the firestorm of criticism, without changing its underlying intentions. The unseemly alacrity with which Diller Scofidio + Renfro accepted the controversial assignment contravened a longstanding ethical rule among high-style architects: one does not participate in the destruction of a building by a living colleague. Nor, in some cases, even works by dead architects.

[snip]

What is perhaps most shocking about this turn of events is Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s design itself. …

This bland and banal scheme possesses all the presence and panache of a commercial parking garage entry. In place of the Folk Art building’s metallic carapace we are about to get a vacuous, recessed “art bay” on ground level, surmounted by glass-fronted exhibition and performance spaces that will create a uniform wall plane with Yoshio Taniguchi’s façade to the east and Jean Nouvel’s proposed 82-story Tower Verre to the west (in the lower stories of which the museum will gain 39,000 feet of exhibition space on three levels contiguous with its existing complex). …

The only conceivable rationale for the Folk Art building’s removal would have been to replace it with something better. DS+R’s sad little sellout does not come remotely close to compensating for what will be taken away from both the cityscape and these architects’ reputations. They have violated the golden rule of opportunism: if you forfeit your soul, at least get a good price for it.

Here we see these architects devolving before our very eyes into establishment routineers, the same sorry phenomenon that befell the stately Taniguchi when he entered MoMA’s force field. Just as this Japanese master’s famously light touch, elegant proportions, exquisite detailing, and spiritual aura coarsened into unrecognizability with his mammoth New York assignment, so DS+R here have undergone a dire transformation from vanguard mavericks to corporate apparatchiks. …

What makes things even worse is that a presumed guardian of high culture—with incomparable permanent collections of modern architecture and design—will be party to the destruction of such an important work of art. Not since the vandalizing of Charles Follen McKim’s Pennsylvania Station half a century ago has New York City’s architectural patrimony been dealt such a low blow.

To their great credit, Williams and Tsien have been restrained in their criticism of the Folk Art decision. Yet it is difficult not to see their masterful new ice rink in Brooklyn as a powerful statement of everything MoMA seems to have lost sight of in this disgraceful and dispiriting episode.

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