Still more writers think critics Jerry Saltz and Roberta Smith should not be blaming The Folk Art Museum’s architecture for its financial woes. First NY Mag Saltz colleague Justin Davidson piped in Thursday, calling it akin to “faulting Mercedes-Benz for making such lovely cars that minimum-wage workers go bankrupt buying them”, and now Paul Goldberger at The New Yorker says architects can only work with what they are given.
Jerry Saltz describes himself as “almost tweeted to death” for his opinions in yesterday’s Facebook note on the subject, going on to give a spirited defense why he thinks both Goldberger and Davidson are off-base. The long and the short of it seems to lie in the idea that neither have made a compelling argument for why the museum is good for art, though this swipe is priceless: “he [Goldberger] blithely suggests that AFAM ‘would be ideal for ”¦a house for the museum’s director.’ This is a defense? As much as I whine about the new MoMA, I wouldn't wish this “house” on any museum director. Well, maybe [former Guggenheim Director] Thomas Krens.”
Kudos to Saltz for landing that punch, but that won’t be the knock out. As I mentioned last week, the New Museum’s architecture doesn’t do much for the art either, and yet it seems to be surviving just fine. The Guggenheim, too, has this issue (no one wants to look at art with a hood over it, but that’s what you get thanks to those endless exhibition nooks), but the building itself is at least a tourist attraction. The Folk Art Museum never gained that status.
Regardless Goldberger seems to think it should have, last week writing, “if this is not quite the finest piece of architecture in New York since the Guggenheim ”¦ it is pretty close.” Ah, yes, and what a crowd pleaser it is too. Just look at the google image results for the term “Folk Museum” and what see how many tourists were so compelled by the building that they took shots of the museum’s exterior: there’s a whole page of images! Compare this to the New Museum, MoMA, or virtually any other museum in the city and you’ll scroll for pages before running out of shots.
My hope through all this though is that New York museums will learn from the Folk Art Museum’s woes (without doing the same as Dia and departing for the greener pastures of Beacon). Building on tiny lots just because that’s the only property available isn’t always a great way to build programs. Maybe it’s idealistic, but the first, and I’d argue the most important, way to grow a museum is simply by producing great shows.