It's been a busy month for NY Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff. After tackling Jean Nouvel's skyscraper, Renzo Piano's Times building and the West Side Rail Yards designs, today he turns to the feverishly celebrated New Museum, previewed yesterday by Gothamist.
Designed by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of Japan-based SANAA, the highly refined seven-story, 174-foot building succeeds, says Ouroussoff, on a "spectacular range of levels: as a hypnotic urban object, as a subtle critique of the art world and as a refreshingly unpretentious place to view art." At $50 million, about $800 million less than MoMA's recent expansion, it also was relatively cheap to build. NY Magazine has the cost at $64 million.
Ouroussoff, who focuses a lot on the museum's location, sees the design as bridging the old Bowery and the new. Here's more:
The museum serves as a hinge between these two worlds. As it rises, its floors shift back and forth like a pile of boxes stacked ever so carefully. Its protective armor of shimmering aluminum mesh is a great ornamental screen. Exquisitely detailed, it is backed by a second layer of metal panels, giving the surface a subtle depth.Lamenting the city's skeletal "new art" scene, the Times critic says the tower renews his faith in the viability of an art world free of "money-driven cynicism." Does that include the institution's corporate sponsors? And he romanticizes grit, a mindset that partly creates the gentrification he mocks. And, while we don't doubt the museum's intent to stay downtown, we suspect the decision to move to the Bowery, despite its cachet at the moment, had plenty to do with market forces - and the inevitable, if depressing, conflation of SoHo, Nolita and the Lower East Side.
What results is a striking expression of the neighborhood’s warring identities. When the building is approached from Prince Street, the contrast between the instability of the forms and the uniformity of the aluminum gives it a strangely enigmatic glow, evoking both a fading past and a phantom future. As you get closer, the skin becomes tougher and more industrial, echoing what’s left of the neighborhood’s grittier history.
The NY Sun has a different take, describing the design as an effort to cling to eternal youth despite the museum's inevitable transformation into a repository of the past. Critic James Gardner calls it "fastidiously geometric and rectilinear" and, as the anti-MoMA, "almost seedy." NY Magazine's Jerry Saltz, who recently noted the lack of female artists in MoMA's galleries, commented on the limited exhibition space (what Gothamist called "cozy"), just 12,000 square feet spread over three floors. The Whitney has 23,000 and the Studio Museum has 10,000.
A few weeks ago, The New Yorker's Paul Goldberger mentions the seemingly semitransparent corrugated-aluminum paneled, silvery gray-painted surface as being unlike any other building in New York. He calls it a "thunderbolt from another world," which, given the spread of condos and boutique hotels in the area, is "at risk of becoming a victim of its own success."
In other words, goodbye grit.