Land of the Free…

Art and architecture in NYC for the weekend… thanks to John R…

A return to the New Museum by Sanaa, the Japanese Pritzker prize-winning duo, and their attempt to make a large-footprint use work vertically, or at least small-footprintly. Good commissioning from the client – if the Japanese can’t do it, who can?

Basically, this is an art gallery on a small urban site. It has a mission to showcase “adventurous contemporary works”. Good stuff, so is it also an ‘adventurous and contemporary’ building? It is in the sense that it has to pile several tall-ish, open-ish spaces on top of each other and make access between them have some sort of logic… does this work? Well, if you don’t mind taking the lift up then fighting the rest of tourist/art-loving NYC for space on the 900mm wide circulation stair (going both ways!), yes it, errr…works…. sort of….no…. ummm, not really…. at all…

But what about the ‘piled up boxes/no windows’ look? is it an inspiring piece of urban streetscape? Well this has to be an unequivocal yes. The ‘boxes’ are fantastic, they sit well in the street and wave a challenge at both the traditional concrete/steel frame warehouses, and the ‘new’ towers. Windows? Who needs ‘em above the ground floor when you’re slipping planes like this??


Good relationship with the neighbours – this shared wall aspect looks like an elbow or a subtle arse being shoved at the tatty frame structure warehouse next door . But there’s a smile between them.


Then there’s a scale shift with the introduction of the human – people wander out on to the balcony on an upper floor and the shifted boxes become more compelling to look at.


…and this is what you see when you get there….. its great, the view from the yellow cab in reverse. But I’m not sure this is what you want from an ‘adventurous contemporary’ art gallery. I was well distracted by the building, by the views, and the art became incidental – is this the response they want?? Disengagement…


…and the view is great, the perfect NYC juxtaposition – modern (sorry, ‘contemporary’, I’m told the word ‘modern’ has problematic connections – discuss…), materials, detailing and form sending the eye straight towards the traditional NYC timber water tower… clunk!


…and giving us rooftop forensics. Wonderful things rooftops, for about 3 minutes (where does that duct go? What is that green steel structure doing?), then you have to return your attention to the new architecture you’re in/on, as the lower east side is not all that diverting architecturally – yet…


A brief foray into detailing – its simple and clever and good-looking, and lets hope it doesn’t leak…




That upstairs space was interesting, but low-ceilinged and empty. The security guard smiled for the camera (thats not her…) as they surprisingly often do, though she wouldn’t let me photograph the works or the other spaces, unsurprisingly.


But in the end I felt a bit like this this about it all….. well the show had been curated by Jeff Koons, so it was all a bit Koons-lite … the spaces are fine, though not top or side lit so very internal, and you have to move between them – vertically! – and this staircase is a crap way to do it. Great object architecture, great counter-intuitive urban context, dodgy internal circulation…. and unfortunately that’s a bit of a major in terms of the function. Worth a visit to check it out though…


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