September 26, 2008 / 5:42 PM / 10 years ago

New York's MAD gets new home in controversial building

NEW YORK (Reuters) - For decades the bunker-like building near Central Park in Manhattan was considered a blight on the city’s landscape, despite its Venetian motifs and porthole windows.

But a thorough resurfacing and cuts through the thick concrete facade allowing light to stream in have transformed it into the new home of the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), which opens its doors to the public on September 27.

“For years, this building was reviled,” said Dorothy Globus, curator of exhibitions at MAD.

“It was a bunker, you couldn’t see anything and it didn’t function,” she added in an interview.

Architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable dismissed it as “a die-cut Venetian palazzo on lollipops,” referring to the support columns at its base. Following her comments it was dubbed “The Lollipop Building.”

The six-year renovation project of the building that originally opened in 1964 has enabled MAD to double the exhibition space for its 3,000 works of art in traditional craft mediums like ceramic, glass, metal, fiber and wood materials that are enhanced by abundant natural light.

The new facade of glazed terra cotta panels, which take on natural light, subtly change the color and character of the building’s exterior, depending on point of view and the different times of day and year.

Brad Cloepfil, of Allied Works Architecture which worked on the building, said the cuts in the facade allow a “force of light” from all four sides that “activate the collection.”

“We can now see the park from the inside. This building really thumbed its nose at the park when it was built. It embraces the neighborhood, it’s so airy and comfortable,” said Globus.


When the museum was established in 1956 it was part of the development of interest in crafts in the United States.

“People thought pottery, for instance, was used to make dishes and functional things,” Globus explained.

“But in the course of celebrating the skill that goes into these handmade items, it evolved into being more than practical items and into art and sculpture.”

An exhibition entitled Second Lives that opens in the museum’s new home showcases works constructed from everyday items. The results are both whimsical and poignant.

Jill Townsley’s “Spoons” consists of 9,273 plastic spoons and 3,091 rubber bands. Each band secures three spoons to create a tripod, and the tripods have been stacked into a structure resembling the framework of a building under construction.

The work is expected to “deconstruct” slowly over the coming months after the rubber bands begin to snap.

Johnny Swing’s “Quarter Lounge” explores the relationship between art and commerce. The piece appears to be a functional love seat made of a metallic material, but a closer look reveals that it is constructed of thousands of U.S. quarters.

One of the most thought-provoking pieces is “Portrait of A Textile Worker” by Terese Agnew. The quilt measuring about eight-by-nine feet looks like a blown-up photo of a woman working at sewing machine in a sweat-shop like environment.

As the viewer gets closer, it becomes clear that the image is actually created by a patchwork of more than 30,000 garment labels cut from well-known, brand-name garments.

Reporting by Chris Wiessner; editing by Patricia Reaney

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