Should MOMA save Tod Williams Billie Tsien’s former Museum of Folk Art?

American Folk Art Museum Building facade, photography by Chiara Maranai

American Folk Art Museum Building facade, photography by Chiara Maranai

I’ve been wondering what MOMA would do since they bailed out the Folk Art Museum by buying the building  a couple of years ago. MOMA announced in April that they would tear down the building as it does not meet their needs. But since the mission of MOMA is to promote understanding of modernism, and they were the 1st museum to include a department of architecture and design, many agree that they have an obligation to at least consider whether the building would meet their needs.

The building, no longer the home of the American Folk Art Museum, opened in 2002 to great acclaim Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects are among the most talented and thoughtful architects working today. The building is small by mid-town standards, only 40 feet wide and about 6 stories tall.  The bronze panel facade creates a warm, hand-made gesture on West 53rd Street. And the interior is full of natural light cascading down from the tall north facing skylight at the top. You worked your way down open stairways across balconies and through galleries. It was an intimate way to see folk art.

There has been a blog-0-storm about MOMA’s announcement, including two petitions on, a Tumblr site, and The Architectural League of New York. And last week MOMA finally responded to the avalanche of bad press and reversed course. Couched in terms of advice from their recently hired architects Diller, Scofidio & Renfro, MOMA’s board now says they will consider all possibilities, from incorporating the former AFAM into the new project to total demolition. This is good news indeed. I’ve felt for weeks that MOMA should be a lot more transparent about their decision-making. Do the floors in fact not line up? How many square feet of gallery space would be lost if this building were incorporated into their plans? Are there any collections that might benefit from being displayed in this building? (Sculpture and architecture come to mind.)

American Folk Art Museum, gallery looking south

American Folk Art Museum, gallery looking south

And they should make an archival record of the building. Large format photographs and archival copies of the design drawings could be part of MOMA’s collection, to say nothing of giving Williams/Tsein a show in the galleries.

It’s nice to think that sometimes reason (and bad publicity) prevail.

For more photos, see my Flickr set here.


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