Karrie Jacobs


November 30, 2007

The New New

The New Museum on the Bowery

What I remember about the press conference a few years ago where SANAA architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa presented their design for the New Museum, is that I walked away unimpressed. The architects were very low key and the renderings didn’t grab me. I didn’t get excited about the new home for this Soho-based contemporary art institution until July of this year when I encountered the building, perhaps 80 percent complete, standing among the restaurant supply houses on the Bowery, looking like it absolutely belonged there.

At yesterday’s press opening, I decided that the New Museum is the least pretentious new museum building I’ve visited in the post-Bilbao era. The galleries are simple, concrete floored boxes with white flourescent lights hanging just below white corrugated metal ceilings. The overall effect is Dan-Flavin-meets-Costco. And that seems exactly right for an institution that favors work by artists who have not yet set records at Sotheby’s.
I also loved those spots (see below) where you could see the ragged edges of the diamond-patterned aluminum screen that covers the facade. It becomes clear that the architects lifted this defining aesthetic element from the surrounding neighborhood where metal security gates are the primary form of architectural ornament. This, I think, is an example of contextualism done right.

The view from the terrace on the top floor.

Architectural asymmetry makes for a highly recognizable graphic icon.