Posted in Magazine
The new home for contemporary artists in New York, whose ribbon-cutting ceremony was celebrated less than a year ago, leaves behind dazzling smoke for every architectural undertaking in the last years. What can you say after the realization that everything beautiful in Manhattan has been designed by the Japanese?
The New Museum shows the works of contemporary artists, mostly Americans, whose work is considered most innovative in concept or medium. As an institution with a semi-‘underground’ agenda it promotes a unique artistic language. It was established in the latter part of the “60’s” and until a year ago functioned as an alternative exhibition space that wandered from place to place in the Chelsea area. It had no home of its own. Its last residence, in a commercial space on Broadway, was granted a fancy renovation in the year 2000 when it was decided that the only museum in Manhattan devoted exclusively to contemporary art, needed a larger, updated and more suitable exhibition space, for the enjoyment of the public and the artists themselves.
But after some difficult decision making and in the aftermath of 9/11, it was decided to find a new site, leaving the museum in the downtown area. A plot of land was acquired that had been a parking lot at the crossroads of Chelsea, Soho, Chelsea-Town, Little Italy and Nolita.
In 2002 the museum summoned a ‘closed’ architectural competition composed of 5 participants from the U.S, Spain, Switzerland, England/Britain and Japan. At the end of the year 2003 the tender was awarded to the winning plan proposed by the SANAA office in Tokyo, at its head a team of architects, Kaziviv Sagima and Rayio Nishizava – without doubt, today’s world renown ‘stars’ of architectural feats. The building construction lasted two years and everyone looked on with tense expectations.
It is important to explain that Sagima is to the architect what Madonna is to the musician. Her system of work is unique and her personal language of drafting and design quickly find ‘variations’ and ‘interpretations’ that are, in fact, ‘copies’ from many different places. This is her first building design in the U.S. – flavored totally in a ‘new’ white. The basic building structure is composed of 6 ‘boxes’ set, as if with ‘indifference’, one on top of the other, each ‘box’ slightly ‘shifted’ to one side or another, and wrapped in a white metal lattice/grill. This lattice/grill creates a solid opaque exterior and the unique material from which it is made (a stretched steel netting painted white) creates a play of light that soften, night or day, the massive size of the of the building. The same material repeats itself in the interior design of the building.
Each one of the ‘boxes’ is, in effect, two floors fulfilling certain functions (exhibition spaces, auditorium, entrance hall, cafeteria, administration, etc.). The lighting is both artificial and natural. The natural lighting is achieved through huge ceiling skylights that are created as a result of the “shifted” cubes – forward, back and sideways.
The elegant organization and the alignment of the boxes afford a sense of lightness and simplicity, to the passerby as well as once inside. In effect, here is a complicated plan that within its framework the massive ceilings and flooring ‘recede’ as if they were pieces of paper. The boxes are set one on top of the other in a way that is hard to detect any separation between them. Their massiveness (each ‘box’ is over two stories in height and the width of the entire building) nevertheless succeeds in its soft whiteness to blend in a proportionate manner with its neighboring buildings in Bowery Street. The building takes up the whole plot of land – in silence. At night the building has a translucent quality that characterizes the design as a whole, repeating itself as well in the exhibition spaces void of windows, illuminated first of all by intense fluorescent lamps hung on mesh trays exposing portions of the ceiling in a ‘constructive’ manner, the whole lighting system of the building – well hidden.
“I am very happy. The building is very close to the city and involved in it, and in the relationships that is created between it and the city, the museum is already an interegal part of the landscape. I am so excited.” – the words of an architect.
And we, too, the provincials, hold our breath as we gaze at the newly designed wing of the Tel Avev Museum – quarreling about the perfection of the competition, about the friend of the judges, about the funding of the construction and about corruption in the granting of tenders. It seems that there is still enough time to travel, to take a look and ponder on it. Closing the gaps is a constant challenge.