On December 1, 2007, the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City opened the doors of its new downtown home, coinciding with the institution’s 30th anniversary. The museum joins a cavalcade of major museum renovation projects undertaken this century, which includes the Museum of Modern Art in 2004 and Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art in 2006. Like the ICA—which celebrated the one-year anniversary of its new home on December 9th—the New Museum is unique among its home city compatriots as both the only major institution devoted exclusively to the collection and presentation of contemporary and international art, and the only museum built from scratch in over a century.
The new building—designed and constructed by Tokyo firm SANAA in conjunction with the interior division of American firm Gensler—has been named “an instant landmark” that “renews your faith in New York as a place where culture is lived, not just bought and sold” by architecture critics Christian Viveros-Fauné and Nicolas Ouroussoff, respectively.
The new location situates the museum squarely on the Bowery in lower Manhattan—a line that divides Soho from the Lower East Side, and one that the architects found “very gritty when we first visited it. We were a bit shocked, but we were also impressed that a fine art museum wanted to be there. In the end, the Bowery and the New Museum have a lot in common… The New Museum is a combination of elegant and urban. We were determined to make a building that felt like that.”
Despite limitations, including a $50 million budget—comparable to the ICA’s cost, though dwarfed by the MoMA’s $858 million bill—and what architect Kazuyo Sejima calls “a tight zoning envelope”—the building’s footprint measures 71 feet wide by 112 feet deep, barely larger than neighboring structures—the museum’s designers are report with satisfaction that “we could not maximize the entire site with solid architecture, [so] we had to reduce the building’s mass somehow to create space between it and the perimeter. The solution of the shifted boxes arrived quickly and intuitively.”
Visually presenting as seven seemingly windowless, slightly askance, stacked metal crates, the structure is filled with a diverse range of neutral, white spaces that the museum conceived of as complementing the façade by “[creating] the widest palette for the art itself. We have a building that meets the city, allows natural light inside, gives the museum column-free galleries and programmatic flexibility, and expresses the program and people inside to the world of New York outside.”
Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st Century constitutes the museum’s debut exhibition, featuring sculptural and object-based works from thirty artists, including John Bock, Martin Boyce, Sam Durant, Matthew Monahan, Manfred Pernice, Anselm Reyle, Eva Rothschild, and Rebecca Warren. Individual exhibitions populate the remaining spaces, while Ugo Rondinone’s neon-lit, rainbow-colored letters proclaim HELL YES! from above the museum’s main entrance, welcoming visitors.
Following the conclusion of Unmonumental and winter exhibitions featuring Young-Hae Chang, Sharon Hayes, and Jeffery Inaba (whose Donor Hall currently occupies the freely accessible entry-level hallway), the New Museum plans to mount several series of new works from individual artists, including abstract paintings by Tomma Abts and animated video projections by Paul Chan, both of which will debut in early April.