MoMA angst in the modernist world

Moma's facade, with AFAM's facade at corner. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

MoMA’s facade, with AFAM’s facade at corner. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The Jan. 9 announcement that New York’s Museum of Modern Art would indeed at last tear down the twee Folk Art Museum embedded in its (MoMA’s) glassy skin has brought to the cozy little world of modern architecture a high degree of angst that shivers my timbers.

The American Folk Art Museum is a cheesy little rectangle of rust thrust into the pastiche of the MoMA edifice on West 53rd St. The AFAM has achieved a sort of cult status now that the building, designed by Williams & Tsien only a dozen or so years ago, has become expendable. It seems, writes Martin Filler in the New York Review of Books, that its “richly textured” – ahem! – ” bronze facade clashes with MoMA’s predominantly glass street wall.” That AFAM does not fit in might strike some as an odd concern for a bunch of modernists. They never bat an eye when ramming their abominations into cohesive historical settings.

MoMA’s building combines the 1936 original by Edward Durrell Stone and Philip L. Goodwin with a 1964 addition by Philip Johnson and a late ’90s expansion by Yoshio Tanaguchi. AFAM went up toward the end of that, but in recent years the museum went bankrupt and its building was sold to MoMA, which was urged by many to incorporate it into its own museum. MoMA and its minions have only thinly disguised their reluctance to do so, let alone the slender rationale for resisting.

Anyway, the bouhaha got so hot that MoMA hired a young firm, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, to reconsider the matter. Ah, DS+R are old friends here in Providence, where they designed an art center for Brown University that melded an accordionesque facade with a facade suffering from mock earthquake damage, and awkwardly to boot! So I was glad to see they’ve run into a buzzsaw of criticism from the oh-so-culturally-sensitive architectural powers that be for doing MoMA’s bidding like a good little hired apparatchik.

Ha! Filler pulls no punches.

I was alerted to his piece, “MoMA loses face,” in the New York Review of Books by Kristen Richards’s website. In her intro she says “Filler fairly fumes re: DS+R’s ‘sad little sellout … they have undergone a dire transformation from vanguard mavericks to corporate apparatchiks.'”

Here is a quote:

What is perhaps most shocking about this turn of events is Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s design itself. The extraordinary capabilities of present-day computer imagery make it safe to say that any executed building is unlikely to look better than (or perhaps even as good as) its digitally enhanced renderings. If that is the case with DS+R’s MoMA illustrations, history will judge the destruction of the Folk Art building even more harshly.

This bland and banal scheme possesses all the presence and panache of a commercial parking garage entry.

We who must regularly view Dildo Scrofulous + Rent Free’s abomination on Angell Street know whereof Martin Filler speaks.

MoMA sponsored the famous 1932 exhibit that was the camel’s nose of modern architecture under the tent of tradition in America. So those of us who are unsurprised that the modernists feel angst at the brutality of their overlords can have our own little chuckle for a change.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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2 Responses to MoMA angst in the modernist world

  1. Pingback: They don’t “get” Carnegie Hall | Architecture Here and There

  2. I’m expecting more of the highlights of tents or marquees in advance architecture…

    Tent for Sale


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