Life Without Buildings’ New York correspondent and Arts & Letters attaché Veronica Kavass stopped by the recently-renovated Museum of Arts and Design last week and sent over the following report.
[MAD, in repose]
Parting is such sweet sorrow—especially when it concerns the “lollipop building”, the Edward Durell Stone building on New York’s 2 Columbus Circle. The structure housed the Huntington Hartford Art Collection from 1964-2005, during which time many New Yorkers grew to reluctantly love its charmingly windowless, Venetian-meets-modern design. As an “art person”, I actually don’t know that much about the collection but I do know that A&P heir Hartford married a variety of crazy women — from a cigarette girl he picked up in a Los Angeles club to a Ft. Lauderdale hair stylist who held his secretary hostage and shaved off all her hair. Might it be fair to say that his relationship to these women was similar to the one he had with the “love it or leave it” building? He spent way too much money on it but always admired its looks and didn’t give a damn what anyone else thought.
Last week the building started its second life. Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works is responsible for the architectural face-lift and the Museum of Arts and Design is the new resident. Several artists, writers, architects, and academics—e.g. Tom Wolfe and Chuck Close—were clearly heartbroken (yet inspired) over the renovation. New York Times critic Nicolai Ouroussoff gave it a shruggy review that revealed his distaste for the new New York. That is, one without the old-fashioned gritty seduction. Despite the disdain, he can still find the sex appeal in the healthy new structure: “The windows allow light into the galleries without sacrificing wall space, provide gorgeous views up Broadway and out over Central Park and allow the galleries to breathe, an effect that is a bit like loosening a corset.”
I was lucky enough to get a tour on opening night hosted by the exhibitions curator Dorothy Twining Globus. The first temporary exhibition is aptly titled “Second Lives” and features works by 50 international contemporary artists such as Ai Wei Wei, Tara Donovan, and Paul Vilinski. The amount of floor space given to the works was perfect for contemplative, graceful, and swift viewing. The pieces echoed various moments in art and political history (Mona Lisa, Meret Oppenheim, Iranian media–to swiftly name a few).
The permanent collection which largely consists of jewlery, pottery, textiles, and furniture is encased like lemon drops in a candy store. You want to reach out and touch all of them-—and you actually kind of can through extremely futuristic enlarged iPhone-ish screens on each of the floors.
Love it or hate it, the new Cloepfil renovation is an appropriate evolution for a building that has always been a lightning rod for architectural criticism and public opinion. Like the design, its institutional function to create a dialog with the city on the subject of art and design will never stray far from exploring the tension between old and new and the curatorial philosophy behind MAD will only lead to more thought-provoking exhibitons on the subject of preservation, recycling, and function.