Published: December 9, 2008
The Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) swung the doors open to its newly designed and constructed domicile at Columbus Circle in late September, revealing a state-of-the-art facility that effectively tripled the size of the museum and allowed its permanent collection to be displayed for the first time. Ribbons of glass weave across the building’s expressive exterior and continue throughout its multilevel interior, allowing ambient sunlight from the outside to filter into the galleries, while creating cohesive visual conduits throughout the various multilevel galleries occupying the interior.
Seemingly utilizing its newly crafted textured façade of terra cotta tile and fritted and clear glass as a billboard, the Chazen Building beckons to those on the busy midtown sidewalks below to enter and experience the exquisite collections housed inside.
Designed by Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture, the building was transformed into a 54,000-square-foot, 12-story dynamic cultural center that furthers MAD’s institutional mission. Located at 2 Columbus Circle, the design maintains the scale, height and form of the original 1964 structure †one of the few freestanding edifices in Manhattan †while dramatically opening up the once nearly windowless building to animate MAD’s permanent collections, which thrive in natural light, says Cloepfil.
While the afforded views of Columbus Circle and Central Park are certainly spectacular, even more breathtaking are the more than 2,000 pieces housed in MAD’s permanent collection. The permanent installations include a site-specific stained-glass commission by Judith Schaechter, an abstract ceramic wall relief by Ruth Duckworth and a ceramic mural by Robert Arneson, titled “Alice House Wall,” on display for the first time in 20 years.
The Museum of Arts & Design, essentially founded in 1956, has long been regarded as the premier institution in the country dedicated to collecting and exhibiting contemporary objects. Conceived more than 60 years ago, the vision that would ultimately morph into MAD belonged to Aileen Osborn Webb and the American Craftsmen’s Council that she helped establish in 1942. Oft regarded as the nation’s leading craft patron and benefactor, Webb’s original goal was to raise public awareness by recognizing and promoting the work of American craftspeople. The council followed Webb’s lead by instituting a series of educational programs and competitions that promoted technical excellence among craftspeople, and, more importantly, celebrated the beauty of the handmade object.
In 1956, with Webb’s continued support, the Museum of Contemporary Craft was founded and housed in a midtown Manhattan Victorian brownstone at 29 West 53rd Street with a perceived mission to collect and promote Twentieth Century crafts. In addition to the programs previously conducted, the move allowed collections to be formed, adding a new facet to the museum, one that would sparkle over the next 30 years.
In 1986, the museum moved to larger quarters across the street and was renamed the American Craft Museum. The new location for the museum essentially doubled the space of the original quarters and allowed for the presentation of landmark exhibitions, such as “Craft Today: Poetry of the Physical.” The direction that the museum would follow over the next 20 years was spurred by its exhibitions, many of which placed a higher value on visual expression and conceptual content.
Again redefined by its move to a new location, MAD continues today to expand its horizons, celebrating materials and processes that are embraced by practitioners in the fields of craft, art and design, as well as architecture, fashion, interior design, technology, performing arts and art and design-driven industries. Reflective of its new name, adopted in 2002, MAD’s spectrum of interest has progressively expanded, as has the museum’s permanent collection and exhibition programming.
The current mission statement of the Museum of Arts and Design is to collect, display and interpret objects that document contemporary and historic innovation in craft, art and design. MAD is presenting several special exhibitions befitting its new location: “Second Lives: Remixing the Ordinary,” “Elegant Armor: The Art of Jewelry” and “Permanently MAD: Revealing the Collection.”
A special thematic exhibition, “Second Lives: Remixing the Ordinary” showcases 54 artists from around the world who “repurpose and transform mass-produced objects into extraordinary works of art.” The exhibition includes works by a roster of well-known designers, such as Tejo Remy and the Campana Brothers, as well as internationally acclaimed artists, including Xu Bing, El Anatsui and Do Ho Suh.
Highlights from the show include American artist Willie Cole’s “Loveseat, 2007” constructed of shoes. Paul Villinski’s butterflies are fashioned from LPs from his old record collection, producing a “soundtrack” of his life, while Susie MacMurray’s outsized dress stitched onto a calico form is constructed from used yellow rubber washing gloves, turned inside out. The exhibition closes February 15.
Of particular interest is the Tiffany & Co. Foundation Jewelry Gallery, located on the second floor of MAD and touted as the nation’s first resource center and gallery dedicated exclusively to contemporary jewelry. Funded by a $2 million grant from Tiffany & Co., the space allows MAD to preserve and promote craftsmanship and contemporary jewelry design.
“The Tiffany Jewelry Gallery is more than just a presentation space for the museum’s contemporary jewelry collection and special exhibitions,” said Holly Hotchner, the Nanette L. Laitman director of the museum. “It is a dynamic and innovative resource center for scholars, students and jewelry enthusiasts alike.”
Ursula Ilse-Neuman, who has been a curator at the museum since 1992, was appointed curator of jewelry and is responsible for developing programming and exhibitions.
The museum’s expanding collection of contemporary jewelry features approximately 500 works from the last five decades of the Studio Jewelry movement. While the collection includes major works made in precious metals, it is distinguished by the wide range of materials that have been used by innovative jewelry artists over the decades, ranging from wood, paper and fiber to rubber, stainless steel, electronics and holograms.
The gallery has been designed to present a rotating series of exhibitions, while at the same time offering public access to MAD’s entire jewelry collection that is housed in a study storage center.
The collection contains important pieces by such pioneering figures as Arthur Smith, who is represented with “Neckpiece,” a brass forged, abstract, semicircular-form necklace from 1948 that was purchased by the American Craft Council in 1967. Other artists include Sam Kramer, Margaret de Patt, John Paul Miller, Arline Fisch and Robert Ebendorf.
The museum’s recent acquisitions feature works by such international artists as Hermann Junger and Otto Künzli from Germany, Tone Vigeland from Norway, Wendy Ramshaw and David Watkins from England, Pavel Opocensky from the Czech Republic, Anna Maria Zanella, Gio Pomodoro and Stephano Marquetti from Italy, Gijs Bakker from the Netherlands and Emiko Suo from Japan.
“The Tiffany Foundation and the Museum of Arts and Design share a commitment to preserving the history of jewelry design,” stated Fernanda Kellogg, president of the Tiffany & Co. Foundation. “And, we are very excited about creating a dynamic environment for the study of contemporary jewelry and the many design traditions and approaches to craftsmanship that contribute to its evolution.”
Designed by Kiss+Zwigard Architects, the primary focus of the gallery is on studio jewelry, which has become a vital art form in recent decades due to its sculptural, symbolic and narrative value. “Elegant Armor” closes March 1.
As part of the “Forward Thinking: Building the MAD Collection” exhibition, the museum announced that collectors Daniel and Serga Nadler have made a promised gift of their renowned jewelry collection. Described as an “unparalleled collection that encompasses approximately 800 modern and contemporary works in silver from around the world,” the Nadler collection will enhance and expand MAD’s existing jewelry collection.
Considered one of the most comprehensive holdings of tribal, ethnic and contemporary jewelry, the Nadler collection was acquired during 30 years of travels throughout the Middle East and Europe, as well as Thailand, China and the Western United States and Mexico. “This extraordinary collection documents the highest standards of craftsmanship and the powerful traditions of jewelry design around the world,” says David Revere McFadden, MAD’s chief curator. “Many modern and contemporary artists and jewelers have been deeply influenced by the work of such anonymous craftsmen.”
Other new major gifts include seminal works by Robert Arneson, Dale Chihuly, Judy Chicago, Ron Arad, Lino Tagliapietra and Peter Voulkos.
“Permanently MAD: Revealing the Collection” is perhaps the “sleeping giant” of the current exhibitions, poised to steal the show. The exhibition marks the first time in the institution’s history that its most significant holdings are on view, including many “never-before-seen masterworks.” The exhibition has been described as the first in an ongoing series of thematic explorations of the collection, encompassing approximately 150 works made in clay, glass, metal, wood and mixed media.
Tracing the phenomenal rise in awareness and appreciation of the Studio Craft movement in America following World War II, the exhibition documents its evolution into a dynamic synthesis of art, craft and design esteemed throughout America and also in the global arena.
Glass artisan Chihuly, fabric designer Jack Larson, furniture maker Wendell Castle, Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, Pop sculptor George Segal, photographer Cindy Sherman and ceramicist Betty Woodman are represented in the collection, as well as a host of others.
MAD has presented more than 560 exhibitions and organizes more than 75 major public programs per year. The museum has built a distinguished permanent collection of more than 2,000 objects that document the history of the Studio Craft movement from the mid-Twentieth Century to the present.
“The visionary Aileen Osborn Webb believed the institution should collect, display and interpret objects that exemplify and celebrate creativity in art, craft and design. The museum, which continues to honor her vision in all of its activities, places a unique emphasis on the essentials that link all of the creative arts: materials, techniques and the artist’s engagement with process. Through its collections, exhibitions and educational programs, the museum encourages awareness and appreciation of art, craft and design in daily life,” relates the museum in a press release.
The Museum of Art and Design is at 2 Columbus Circle. For information, 212-229-7777 or www.madmuseum.org .
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