The New Museum began as an idea in the mind of founding Director Marcia Tucker. As a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art from 1967 through 1976, Tucker observed firsthand that new work by living artists was not easily assimilated into the conventional exhibition and collection structure of the traditional art museum.
The care and attention that these venerable institutions lavished on older, established artists and artworks was not yet being extended to art being made in the present. Interested in bringing the scholarly practices of these older institutions to younger artists and their work, Tucker imagined an institution devoted to presenting, studying, and interpreting contemporary art.
When Tucker officially founded the New Museum on January 1, 1977, it was the first museum devoted to contemporary art established in New York City since the Second World War. Positioned between a traditional museum and an alternative space, the New Museum’s stated mission was to be a catalyst for a broad dialogue between artists and the public by establishing “an exhibition, information, and documentation center for contemporary art made within a period of approximately ten years prior to the present.” The Museum presented the work of living artists who did not yet have wide public exposure or critical acceptance to a broader public.
Designed by Tokyo-based architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa/SANAA, is a seven-story, eight-level structure locatedcat 235 Bowery between Stanton and Rivington Streets, at the origin of Prince Street in New York City.
As such, the New Museum is clad in a seamless, anodized expanded aluminum mesh chosen by SANAA to emphasize the volumes of the boxes while dressing the whole of the building like a strong body in a delicate, filmy, softly shimmering skin. With windows just visible behind this porous scrim-like surface (achieved with a common material never before employed to clad major a building façade), the structure appears as a single, coherent, and even heroic form that is nevertheless mutable, dynamic, and animated by the changing light of day—an appropriate visual metaphor for the openness of the New Museum and the ever-changing nature of contemporary art. “It was complicated to organize the architecture around all of the desires,” Sejima and Nishizawa have said. “We knew we could not maximize the entire site with solid architecture, we had to reduce the building’s mass somehow to create space between it and the perimeter. The solution of the shifted boxes arrived quickly and intuitively. Then through trial and error we arrived at the final, ideal configuration. Now we have a building that meets the city, allows natural light inside, gives the Museum column-free galleries and programmatic flexibility, and expresses the program and people inside to the world of New York outside.”