Museum of Modern Art director Glenn D. Lowry confirmed last night that it will demolish the American Folk Art Museum, reports The New York Times.
The little bronze art museum adjacent to MoMA has only been around for 12 years, but it was a darling among critics.
Herbert Mushamp of The New York Times wrote when the building was first built in 2001, “The museum’s facade is already a Midtown icon. Like that of the Austrian Cultural Institute, now nearing completion two blocks away, it demonstrates the capacity to project a powerful urban presence at town-house scale.”
It was even named “The Best New Building in the World in 2001“, and is renowned in the art community for its vast collection of everything from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century household furniture to sculptures created by self-taught American artists.
So why does the short-lived museum — bought by MoMA in 2011 — have to go? Because it’s in the way of the MoMA’s planned expansion, announced this past April.
When the museum first expressed its desire to tear down the Folk Art Museum building for not aesthetically melding with the MoMA’s new design, the architecture community was in an uproar. They vehemently opposed the decision and immediately began circulating petitions to stop the demolition as well as creating the tumblr (and hashtag) #FolkMoMA. The Architectural League also strongly demanded that MoMA reconsider.
Things started looking up for the American Folk Art Museum when MoMA hired architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, which seemed sympathetic to preserving the landmark building.
But all hope for the building was killed at a press conference this Wednesday. Lead architect Elizabeth Diller made a presentation that showed the biggest problem with the American Folk Art Museum — it would block circulation between the current MoMA building and its planned expansion into three floors of Jean Nouvel’s new tower at 53 West 53rd Street.
Diller presented three scenarios. The first would be accessed along the north 54th Street wall, but that would clearly create a bottleneck in a museum that expects to have three million visitors per year. The second and third scenarios created a loop for circulation along 54th Street, with the front part of the loop bridging through the existing Folk Art Museum building. The loop solves the circulation issue of bringing throngs of people to and through the new galleries and the Tower Verre.
Adapting the Folk Art Museum building, however, would basically compromise the building’s interior beyond recognition. A pall settled over the room as if the death of a family member had been announced. The architects would have had to destroy the Folk Art Museum building in order to save it.
Diller went on to show Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s new design for the space, with a gallery for new exhibitions similar to the courtyard at MoMA PS1 and new space for performance art. The expansion would add 15,500 square feet of gallery space in the folk art site and 39,000 square feet in the Nouvel tower.
According to the Times, the architects who regionally designed the Folk Art Museum, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, protested the decision in a statement: “This action represents a missed opportunity to find new life and purpose for a building that is meaningful to so many. The inability to experience the building firsthand and to appreciate its meaning from an historical perspective will be profoundly felt.”
Construction will begin this spring or summer and finish by 2018 or 2019.
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