MoMA Expansion Spells End for Folk Art Museum

The American Folk Art Museum building by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien will be demolished for new MoMA space.

The decision is now final: New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has announced it will proceed with a major expansion on West 53rd Street in Manhattan, a project that will result in the demolition of the acclaimed but short-lived American Folk Art Museum building by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.

The plan to raze the Folk Art Museum was originally proposed by MoMA in April of 2013, two years after it purchased the building to help the folk art institution pay off $32 million in debt. MoMA officials claimed that the existing building’s distinctive bronze façade would not match the glass aesthetic found throughout the rest of its interior, but architects and preservationists pushed back, arguing that the façade made the Folk Art building a modern city landmark. (New York Times critic Herbert Muschamp called it a “Midtown icon” in his 2001 review of the building, among other glowing language.)

In an effort to address the criticism and explore other options, MoMA subjected its expansion plan to a six-month study by architecture firm Diller, Scofidio & Rendro, but the final recommendation, revealed in early January, remained unchanged.

“The analysis that we undertook was lengthy and rigorous, and ultimately led us to the determination that creating a new building on the site of the former American Folk Art Museum is the only way to achieve a fully integrated campus,” said MoMA Director Glenn D. Lowry.

In the Folk Art Museum’s place will be a glass-enclosed building linking MoMA’s current space on West 53rd Street, and a coming 82-story tower by French architect Jean Nouvel, of which the art museum will occupy three floors. According to Lowry, the goal is to “transform the current lobby and ground-floor areas [of the Folk Art building] into an expansive public gathering space, open to the public and spanning the entire street level of the museum.” By the time the expansion project is complete in 2018, MoMA will have approximately 40,000 square feet of new galleries and public spaces.

Even though MoMA’s stature within the New York arts community means that the expansion is now certain, critics around the web continue to voice their displeasure with the loss of the Folk Art Museum building. “A city that allows such a work to disappear after barely a dozen years is a city with a flawed architectural heart,” wrote Paul Goldberger on Vanity Jerry Saltz, senior art critic for New York magazine, took to Twitter with a short yet powerful message: “Stop. The. Project.”

The American Folk Art Museum building, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien

The American Folk Art Museum building, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien. (Photo courtesy of David Shankbone/Wikipedia)
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