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MAD’s Striptease: Cloepfil Shows New York What He’s Got

MADVeil.jpg

The Dance of the MAD Veils, as observed last July

By Martin Filler, Guest Blogger

I smiled when I read the juicy NY Times obituary of Sherry Britton, the burlesque queen of
prewar renown, who died on April 1 at age 89. After her stripping days were
done, she became a summer stock trouper during the 1950s, when I saw her
perform at New Jersey’s Camden County Music Circus in some musical or
other–perhaps “Guys and Dolls,” in
which she toured nationally as the golden-hearted floozy Miss Adelaide–though
all I really remember is Miss Britton’s, um, commanding stage presence.

She was
famed for her provocatively slow striptease, the architectural equivalent of
which has been happening lately on New York’s Columbus Circle, where Edward
Durell Stone
‘s Gallery of Modern Art of 1962-1964 (familiarly but incorrectly
known as the Huntington Hartford Museum) is being transformed by Brad Cloepfil
of Portland’s Allied Works Architecture into the new home of the Museum of Arts
& Design (formerly known as the American Craft Museum.)

Bit by
tantalizing bit, the gauzy black protective tarps that have shrouded the
ten-story structure during its lengthy remodeling are dropping away, revealing
what all the fuss was about. While architectural crimes of all sorts were being
perpetrated all over the city, an inordinate amount of sound and fury
surrounded the burning issue of whether or not Stone’s silly little building
ought to be preserved for future generations. (My opinion was just to let it
crumble away into a romantic urban ruin.) As architect, scholar and critic Michael Sorkin correctly noted at
the time, why was no one getting that worked up over the simultaneous emergence
of the horrific behemoth that now looms over the comparatively tiny museum–
the Time Warner Building of 2000-2004 by David Childs of Skidmore, Owings &
Merrill?

I’ll have to
wait until I see the inside of Cloepfil’s remodeling to weigh in with my
opinion, even though his skin treatment– which replaces Stone’s lacy white
marble veneer with stone, glass, and steel cladding worked into a meandering rectilinear
pattern–has turned out much as I expected, confirming my longstanding belief
that surface reworkings of existing structures are a waste of time and money.

Although Cloepfil has expanded the original volume of the building to the north
as much as the minuscule site would allow, retaining the steel skeleton–a
necessary economic decision–makes it unlikely that the new museum’s interiors
will be any better than those of the first incarnation, which means not very
good at all.

A small footprint is no insurmountable obstacle, as brilliantly
demonstrated by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa‘s New Museum of Contemporary
Art, which works wonders with a handkerchief-sized plot. But as any architect
will tell you, it’s much easier to build from scratch than to remodel.

The
Museum of Arts & Design’s new home, atop one of New York’s busiest subway
nodes, has location, location, location. But it remains to be seen if this
controversy-ridden fixer-upper was a stroke of recycling genius or merely a
case of throwing good money after bad.  

an ArtsJournal blog