Published: May 17, 2011
The latest in the saga involving the American Folk Art Museum is that the museum’s main building on 53rd Street is being sold to its neighbor, the Museum of Modern Art, for an undisclosed price.
Museum President Laura Parsons said this week that the sale would satisfy the museum’s bond debt associated with the 2001 opening of the building at 53rd Street that was designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects as well as other debt obligations. The bond debt for the building alone has been reported as $32 million.
The museums hope to close the deal by the end of summer after notifying all interested parties and city authorities with oversight into such matters, Parsons said, at which time the Folk Art Museum would have 90 days to move out. It remains open in its current location.
The Folk Art Museum will now be only in its smaller space opposite Lincoln Center, at which it now runs programs as a satellite space. Optimistic attendance projections for the 53rd Street location were never achieved and the museum has been weighing how to get out from under its crushing debt for the last 18 months. Parsons said the sale was the only viable option in the end.
“We are important and need to be here, but we do not seem to get the support from the community of collectors,” Parsons said.
The museum’s collections are extensive and will not fit into the 5,000-square-foot space at Lincoln Center †a sixth of its current size. Many items are in storage in Brooklyn.
Parsons said the collection would not be sold off and that the museum is “exploring strategic partnerships with other cultural and educational organizations, traveling exhibitions based on our collection and an enhanced online presence.”
She anticipates more visitors at Lincoln Center and feels strongly the importance of “getting the collection out to the public.”
The building that MoMA is purchasing, exercising its right of first refusal, is between MoMA and a vacant lot that it sold to a developer in 2007 with the idea that the museum would one day expand in that direction.
MoMA Director Glenn Lowry told The New York Times last week that owning the Folk Art Museum’s sliver-shaped building would allow it to connect its galleries on both sides of the block.
Lowry was not available for comment this week concerning MoMA’s use of the building as is or if it would tear it down and put up a new building.
The Future of TAAS
In related news, The American Antiques Show (TAAS), which the museum ran for well over a decade, anchoring January’s Americana Week, is now under the ownership of The Art Fair Company and has a working title of The Metropolitan Show.
Mark Lyman, company president, confirmed the show’s working name as he announced an advisory committee of dealers is being formed. The committee’s role, he said, would be to help create the mission of the show and vet dealers for inclusion. The committee would likely include five to seven members, and longtime gallerists Frank Maresca and Carl Hammer have already signed on, he reported.
“The show will stand on its own as a new show, [but] we are certainly going to reference the strong history of the show as it has been, focused on Americana galleries having a strong content in history of both Outsider folk and antiques,” he said.
The show will debut with 45 to 50 exhibitors and will add new areas of focus, including Modern design and photography, he said.
The TAAS show’s history of lecture series and VIP programming would also continue, Lyman said. “We feel that individuals [who] have access to information as well as material will be more interested in the total experience and better informed participants.”
Parsons said the show was a success and dealer booth rents covered the cost of running the show, but in the end the net revenue was not what was hoped for and the time it took from the museum staff was considerable.
The Metropolitan Show will have a new look from TAAS, amping up its presentation, in the form of painted booth walls versus paper coverings, 10- to 12-foot-high booth walls, state-of-the-art track lighting and design touches that “say when you walk into the environment of a show that this is serious,” Lyman said.
The new show will debut January 18′2 at the Metropolitan Pavilion at 125 West 18th Street. Its preview gala will still benefit the Folk Art Museum. For information, www.artfaircompany.com or 800-563-SOFA.
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