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American Folk Art Museum’s Last Day on W. 53rd: My Narrated Slideshow (plus the Barnes Foundation’s closure)

With the $31.2-million sale (to be consummated on July 22) of its flagship building on New York’s W. 53rd Street, the financial trainwreck that is the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) was given 90 days to clear out of its 10-year-old Tod Williams Billie Tsien-designed facility. It will settle into what was had been its satellite location—a comparatively small site near Lincoln Center.

Its W. 53rd Street building is being bought by the Museum of Modern Art, which has not yet announced its plans for the property. AFAM is flanked on the east by MoMA and on the west by the vacant lot that may one day become the site of the Jean Nouvel-designed MoMA/Hines tower. It’s conceivable that AFAM’s land may be annexed into that stalled mixed-use development. My request to MoMA for an update what it may do with its latest real estate acquisition has not yet been answered.

AFAM has a new acting director, Linda Dunne, succeeding Maria Ann Conelli, who resigned, effective this month.


Linda Dunne

AFAM’s future Lincoln Square plans include curator Stacy Hollander‘s fall show, “Life: Real and Imagined—A Decade of Collecting,” which will include portraits by 19th-century artists Ammi Phillips, Jacob Maentel, and the husband-and-wife team of Dr. Samuel and Ruth Shute, as well as contemporary artists such as James Castle, Henry Darger and Martín Ramírez.

I felt morbidly impelled to visit the moribund AFAM-on-53rd late last Friday, the last day it was open to the public. As you’ll hear me say in my narrated slideshow, below, this was probably the saddest time I’ve ever spent at a museum.

I was even more saddened, though, by the NY Timesvaluable documentary record (with good, but not synchronized, narration by Randy Kennedy) taking us through some of the rooms in the late, lamented home of the Barnes Foundation in Merion, PA. (Make sure you use your mouse to navigate up, down and sideways in this virtual walkthrough, or you’ll miss many masterpieces, including the famed Matisse “La Danse” mural, up high in the main room.)

The Merion Barnes closed its doors to the public on July 3, in preparation for the opening, scheduled for late next spring, of its new Philadelphia digs. In a turnabout-is-fair-play turn of events, the Philly facility that is supplanting the beloved Merion home of the Barnes was designed by the same architects—Williams and Tsien—who may possibly soon experience the nightmare of seeing their recent New York creation gutted or bulldozed. Is the irascible Dr. Albert Barnes rising retributively from his grave?

I told you I was feeling morbid. Here’s my narrated slideshow of the 53rd Street folk art museum in its death throes:

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