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I was at MAD—the new Museum of Arts and Design— in New York twice over the weekend and it was mobbed by hoards of 20 and 30-something people standing in the rain waiting to get in to see the collection of contemporary art and the building itself. This was despite two nasty, narrow and backward-looking reviews in The New York Times by their architectural critic Nicolai Ouroussoff and their art critic Roberta Smith.
Ouroussoff sided with the preservationists in attacking the newly renovated building and its architect, Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works for displacing the original 1964 post-Modernist “Lollipop” structure by Edward Durell Stone. And he criticized the detailing inside the building.
Ouroussoff may be right about the detailing but not about the building. The Lollipop was built for millionaire, Huntington Hartford, who used it as a NY apartment, and when he died, it basically died with him. It was closed for decades, dark, with homeless people living under it. Often, the homeless were not harmless. I walked past it every day to work and saw people, especially women, harrassed frequently. Truth is, New Yorkers who actually used the streets under the Lollipop feared and hated the building.
Cloepfil—and Holly Hotchner, director of MAD—have brought new life to these streets and to the entire Columbus Circle area near Central Park. His design for the building is friendly and open and, most important, focuses on presenting the museum’s great collection of contemporary jewelry, glass, pottery and mixed media. The chandelier by Yves Behar in the lobby lights up the entrance. The three story hanging staircase opens the space, integrates the floors and invites people to take journeys to the galleries. The interactive signs by Pentagram’s Lisa Strausfeld are brilliant—informative, entertaining, engaging. Even the store is great—it opens wide to the lobby and is stocked with beautiful jewelry, pots and glass sculptures from around the world. MAD is a space designed for people to learn and have fun.
Architects, unfortunately, love to talk about edifices in abstract and historic terms. When I first launched the Architectural Record/Business Week annual architecture contest with Karen Stein a decade ago, we couldn’t find architecture photographers who would shoot buildings with people inside. They refused. Architecture was not about people, they said.
Well, I disagree. Design should start with people and then move outward. Yes, it should understand the historic context within which it exists but shouldn’t be constrained or destroyed by it. MAD is a modern building that works and brings life to the city streets. The New York Times needs to do better.
Ah yes, a note about Roberta Smith, the NYT’s art critic. She too aired her views within the context of the history she was familiar with and she did it in the most condescending tone. It was all about, in effect, “This trend began years ago—that trend is tired—these people are trying too hard,” etc. However, what the audience saw clearly excited them. There was a buzz in all the galleries, discussion, texting, enjoyment.
And revolution. The MAD show integrated modern Native American art into modern European, Asian and American art without making any “ethnic” or “ethnographic” distinctions. Dylan Poblano’s necklace was there along with Georg Jenson’s silver. Preston Singletary’s glass sculpture and Preston Duwyenie’s pot were there along with Mary McFadden. This is a huge event in the evolution of Native art (and American culture) and Holly Hotchner did it without any shouting or arm-waving. She is a hero.
There was a time, when I was editor of the editorial page of Business Week, when I considered myself The Voice of Authority. Now, thanks to blogging, the Innovation & Design channel and the new culture of social media, I see myself as a leader of conversations—a participant really who follows and listens as much as leading and speaking. The New York Times art critics need to start listening to the producers, consumers and presenters of art before they wave their little pointed fingers.
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