February 03, 2008

A Visit to the New Museum

The latest addition to the New York museum scene is aptly called the New Museum and is dedicated to promoting new art and new ideas. It is the only museum in New York City that is devoted exclusively to contemporary art and most recently, contemporary architecture as well.

The New Museum was actually founded 30 years ago in a one room office on Hudson Street. It was the brainchild of Marcia Tucker, a curator with a vision of presenting new art to new audiences. The museum has evolved through various incarnations culminating in the opening last December of its first free standing dedicated building located on the Bowery in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Old New Yorkers remember the Bowery as a place to get away from, rather than gravitate toward, but the pressures of real estate prices and availability have caused the gentrification of this former flop of the down-and-out. Don't get me wrong, the Bowery Mission is still 2 doors down, but the previously boarded up tenements are now thriving as chic boutiques and restaurants that attract the curious and the avant garde. Much of the credit for this positive change must be given to the Board of the New Museum who risked investing millions of dollars to build such a monument to the contemporary in an area that was until recently pure squalor.

The new New Museum is housed in a building comprised of seven off-axis stories covered in an aluminum mesh. Designed by the architectural firm Sejima + Nahizawa/SANAA, it features 3 floors of column-free gallery space, an auditorium, a glass-walled gallery, a café and shop and a penthouse observation deck. The building is a success both visually and practically and speaks to the museum's goal of pushing the envelope in contemporary design.

I cannot say that I was as enthralled with the inaugural exhibition "Unmonumental" which runs until March 23. Although I understand the idea behind it, and respect the organizers' goal of reflecting the New Museum's commitment to very contemporary art, I found many of the works presented to be uninspired and therefore uninspiring. I admit, really contemporary art is not my strong suit, but I try to look objectively and sometimes find interesting and desirable works by new and emerging artists. I did not leave this exhibition with the feeling that I had discovered the next great art sensation, but as I said, I'm not an expert.

Nevertheless, a trip to the New Museum is well worthwhile if only to see what's happening in that part of the city. Try to go on the weekend when the Sky Room is open and you can go outside for a fantastic view of Downtown. Take a walk through a neighborhood that you never dreamed could be so inviting and imagine the possibilities!

The view facing West from the 7th floor deck

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