MoMA: A Needless Act of Destruction by Martin Filler | The New York Review of Books
MoMA: A Needless Act of Destruction
filler_1-052313.jpg Giles Ashford
The former American Folk Art Museum building, New York City, 1997–2001, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien
The only surprising thing about the Museum of Modern Art’s announcement in April that it intends to demolish Tod Williams and Billie Tsien’s American Folk Art Museum of 1997–2001—an architectural gem that abuts the Modern’s campus on Manhattan’s West 53rd Street—to make way for yet another MoMA addition is that this deplorable decision took so long to occur. When in 2011 the Folk Art Museum was compelled to sell its decade-old building because of the worldwide economic crash that had caused its default on $32 million in bonds that financed the $18.4 million scheme, seasoned observers fully expected that the superb structure’s days were numbered.
Some commentators unfairly portrayed this debacle as the comeuppance of a quirky little institution’s overweening ambition. At a time when all cultural and educational institutions faced similar difficulties, MoMA’s own $425 million expansion scheme designed by Yoshio Taniguchi did not founder thanks to the emergency measures resorted to by some of its more deep-pocketed supporters. One venerable trustee is said to have anted up what he had expected would be a posthumous bequest.
Williams and Tsien’s physically small (a mere forty feet wide and eighty-five feet high) but architecturally powerful incursion into MoMA’s presumed turf has long been known to be a thorn in the side of Glenn D. Lowry, the Modern’s director since 1995. Years before Lowry’s tenure and the Drang nach Westen he is so closely associated with, the Modern’s endlessly munificent benefactor Blanchette Rockefeller had deeded two narrow townhouses further down West 53rd Street to the fledgling Museum of American Folk Art (as it was then called). She never could have imagined how keenly MoMA would come to rue her well-intentioned gift.
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