Critical Round-Up: Reaction to the Folk Art Museum's Demolition, MoMA's Expansion

Critical Round-Up: Reaction to the Folk Art Museum's Demolition, MoMA's Expansion

The flurry of criticism that erupted when MoMA announced its plans to demolish the American Folk Art Museum (in its new plans for expansion, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro) has yet to settle. After the break, we offer a more complete round-up of the critics' reactions - including Paul Goldberger's of Vanity Fair, Michael Kimmelman's for The New York Times, and more...

Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times: "MoMA's Plan to Demolish Folk Art Museum Lacks Vision"

A city presents endless constraints out of which creativity emerges, or it doesn’t. There were plenty of good reasons to raze the old Pennsylvania Station 50 years ago, but that didn’t mean that it was wise. It would be truly radical for MoMA to save the former folk art building, but that’s not what the museum has ever really been about. MoMA wants more gallery space, and the expansion that drives the planned demolition is just more MoMA madness.

...the fabric of the surrounding streets does need more outliers like the former American Folk Art Museum building to stem the increasing monotony of glass towers. MoMA, far from being one of those outliers, has pretty much become like Extell and other Midtown developers, waiting to gobble up property and expand its own shiny glass palace.

MoMA is now as jammed and joyless as the Van Wyck Expressway on a Friday in July. That’s not because it is a victim of its own success; it’s because the museum is a victim of its own philosophy. This is not just nostalgia talking.

Wedged onto a narrow plot, the ill-fated folk art building is far from perfect. Inside, it’s mostly stairwells and passages, its galleries tricky to install. But the eccentricity helps to account for what endears it to architects. Those bespoke, domestic-size spaces, like the building’s sober hammered bronze facade, share something with the handicraft of the folk art museum’s collection; the building has a rootedness, a materiality, an outsize claim to significance. It stands proudly on the street, the unfashionable antithesis of generic, open-ended modernism, the opposite of what Diller Scofidio now envisions in its place, with its paradigm of indefinite and perishable culture.

Rendering of the garden entrance of the new MoMA, by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Image Courtesy of MoMA. Image Courtesy of MoMA

Jerry Saltz, Vulture Magazine: "Jerry Saltz's Open Letter to the MoMA Trustees"

Last week, Diller Scofidio + Renfro unveiled a design that replaces AFAM — a useless place for the exhibition of art, and a building whose demolition I have advocated — with even worse spaces. Their generic technocratic edifice is scornful to art, and will be less conducive to looking at art than the building it will replace. These designs are contemptuous of art, artists, and the museum. On behalf of the art community, I implore the trustees and board members to stop and reconsider the entire plan.

MoMA is about to commit an irrevocable masochistic act, a self-destructive abandoning of its first purpose.

Please stop. Reconsider. Don't be handmaidens to this grotesque tragedy inflicted on a museum built on the backs of artists and the largess and love of art of people like you. MoMA is at a point of no return. This plan should be scrapped.

Martin Filler, New York Books Blog for New York Magazine: "MoMA Loses Face"

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.

What is perhaps most shocking about this turn of events is Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s design itself. The extraordinary capabilities of present-day computer imagery make it safe to say that any executed building is unlikely to look better than (or perhaps even as good as) its digitally enhanced renderings. If that is the case with DS+R’s MoMA illustrations, history will judge the destruction of the Folk Art building even more harshly.

This bland and banal scheme possesses all the presence and panache of a commercial parking garage entry.

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.

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.

Rendering of the “art bay” of the new MoMA, by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Image Courtesy of MoMA. Image Courtesy of MoMA

Justin Davidson, Vulture: "MoMA Reveals Its Expansion Plans — and the Fate of the American Folk Art Museum"

By the time the architects were done tinkering with their old friends’ creation, it would have been so bastardized that there was little point in keeping the remains. In an architectural version of the battlefield paradox, DS+R would have had to destroy the building in order to save it. But that hesitancy shows in the provisional design for the next phase. The client is bent on art-world domination; the architects seem halfhearted. Instead of healing the scar left by the Folk Art Museum, they have left a gleaming gap.

It’s possible that as the architects refine their work, MoMA will receive a similarly rejuvenating spa treatment. Maybe seeing the Picassos will get more pleasant, and the whole complex will shed its cold, corporate air. But for now the design feels less like an optimistic hosanna than a mournful chorus of compromises.”

Paul Goldberger, Vanity Fair: "Friendly Fire on the Culture Front? Why the Museum of Modern Art is Making a Fatal Mistake"

Lowry envisions the expansion as a way of creating much needed breathing space. ‘We are a victim of our own success,’ he told me. Fair enough. But this argument, however much it responds to a real problem, reminds me a bit of the highway engineer’s practice of solving traffic problems by building more freeways. As we have learned the hard way, more roads generally bring more traffic, perpetuating, rather than fixing, the problem. Yes, MoMA lacks the space to show enough of its great collections, and yes, it long ago lost the domestic scale that made it, once, the most beloved of all of New York’s major museums. Is there a way to fix the first problem without making the second one even worse?

The brooding, somber façade of the folk-art museum, made of folded planes of hammered bronze, combines monumental dignity with the image of delicate handcrafting, and it is a majestic, if physically small, architectural achievement. A city that allows such a work to disappear after barely a dozen years is a city with a flawed architectural heart. A large cultural institution that cannot find a suitable use for such a building is an institution with a flawed architectural imagination.

The Williams and Tsien building is also the last remnant of something approaching reasonable scale on West 53rd Street, a block that seems ever bigger, ever more corporate, ever less diverse. Tearing down the folk-art museum may make sense by MoMA’s measure of things, but it is hard to see how it makes New York a better place.

About this author
Cite: Vanessa Quirk. "Critical Round-Up: Reaction to the Folk Art Museum's Demolition, MoMA's Expansion" 15 Jan 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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