I declare MAD successful!

(Credit: Stefan Weisman)

I recently went to the Museum of Art and Design (MAD) at New York’s 2 Columbus Circle and I was surprised at how much I liked it. With the flurry of controversy and negative criticism that surrounded the museum’s opening, I was expecting something entirely different than I got. The interiors, revamped to turn rabbit warrens on a cramped site into generous spaces, are wonderfully successful. The rooms are filled with light and give the exhibitions a connection to the world at large—this did not happen in the former windowless interior which was designed as a museum for another age.

From inside MAD, the glass slits in the ceramic facade line up with the avenues and streets that radiate from this spectacular site and create exciting views. The materials chosen are pleasing, particularly the rods that support the stairs from the basement to the second floor. Unfortunately, the flooring in the elevators is already showing signs of wear.

The renovation of this building, and its use for MAD, counts among the most controversial projects undertaken in New York in recent memory. Now, some six months after the opening, it’s hard to understand all the acrimony that surrounded the project. This makes me wonder if any of the critics actually went inside, took a look at the way most of us experience buildings, and really understood the architect’s contribution to adapting a difficult museum building to the ethos of the new century.

When I was there the temporary exhibit, Second Lives, showed artists’ use of every day household objects in extraordinary ways. I give it high marks.

The permanent collection is now exhibited—there is space for it, finally! I think these exhibits should be much better than they are. Many craft artists were missing and the work shown is not the best work. Now that MAD has space to show its collections, I hope that donors, curators, and artists will strive to upgrade the collection to meet a higher quality in the months and years to come.

I find the negativism that surrounded MAD and the design of its new space hard to understand and totally out of order. And I wonder if this is merely a symptom of design criticism being based on the model of art criticism. I believe design criticism that does not take into consideration context, people, culture, and environment will always be off the mark; and a useless exercise whose time has come and gone.

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