GUESTCRITIC

The Demolition Game

What is the role of architecture in the eyes of the patrons and trustees of our museums? How does patronage influence the curators and the interaction of the public with the art displayed? The current MoMA expansion controversy can be

Portrait of Carlos Brillembourg. Pencil on paper by Phong Bui.

productive if we examine what is beneath the surface of the planned demolition of the America Folk Art Museum. Without doubt, the architectural approach taken by Liz Diller, Rick Scofidio, and Charles Renfro and that taken by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien represent very different modes of conceiving architecture for a museum. Recently, Liz Diller declared the need of “future-proofing a design,” stating that if you design an “idiosyncratic” building then it might be torn down. This dialectic of the generic versus idiosyncratic exemplifies two ways of conceiving architecture: One believes in an “International Style” that is reflective of the “Program” and the other a material based architecture that is site specific in a physical and cultural context. If museums are meant to embody the cultural aspirations of society and also function as public urban spaces that have the capacity to transform the civic mind, then how do these two approaches to architecture determine the future of museums?

The social art of architecture has always been in dialogue with art as the more autonomous practice and the original MoMA was developed in 1929 primarily by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (wife of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.) and two of her friends, Lillie P. Bliss and Mary Quinn Sullivan. When Abby Rockefeller’s son Nelson was selected by the board of trustees to become president in 1939, at the age of 30, he
hired architects Philip Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone to build the new museum on 53rd Street that opened to the public on May 10, 1939. This building and the addition of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden by Philip Johnson was a special oasis where many artists of my generation hung out in the quiet meditative spaces dedicated to all the “Modern” arts.

Many articles about the planned demolition have come out recently and we do not want to add to these journalistic voices either pro or con. I ask you to consider this moment of crisis as an opportunity not to condemn but to elucidate the true nature of the crisis and what we can learn from it looking toward the future of art within the city. All major museums of the world have to deal with the increasing problem of art tourism and manage to make the museum experience meaningful for those of us who need the kind of meditative space required to view art. The tourists who seem to experience a museum as they would a shopping mall would probably prefer the shopping mall if they become equivalent. I believe that architecture must be a critical practice that is life affirming, open to radical truths, and not a mere reflection of the powers that be.

Thank you.

 

 


 

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