Growing American Craft Museum finds home

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP   |   July 9, 2002 at 12:45 PM   |   0 comments

NEW YORK, July 9 (UPI) -- The fate of A&P supermarket heir Huntington Hartford's old Gallery of Modern Art has been resolved with the purchase of the long-abandoned building by the American Craft Museum.

"We will return it to the full glory of being a museum," said Holly Hotchner, president of the Craft Museum.

Hotchner said he would spend $30 million in the renovation, which is expected to last several years. The purchase price for the 1964 structure, where Hartford once displayed his collection of figural modern art including important works by Salvador Dali, was not disclosed.

The move of the American Craft Museum from its cramped quarters on West 53rd Street, opposite to the Museum of Modern Art, will go far toward the renewal of the Columbus Circle area at the southwest corner of Central Park.

The twin-towered AOL Time Warner headquarters is being built on an adjoining circle site.

Since the AOL Time Warner building will include Lincoln Center's new jazz center, Columbus Circle will now become a part of the center's extended cultural community. The American Craft Museum will be its first museum component, although the American Museum of Folk Art has a satellite gallery in the area and the American Bible Society has a gallery.

The city, which owns the museum building on Columbus Circle, has been looking for an occupant for seven years. And for a while it seemed that realtor Donald Trump might buy it to construct a new hotel tower. However, destruction of the white marble neo-Venetian palazzo was strongly opposed by admirers of its architect, the late Edward Durell Stone.

In addition to Trump, the Hartford Museum building had another bidder, the Dahesh Museum, which specializes in European academic art and has a gallery on one floor of a midtown Fifth Avenue office building. The city turned down both the Trump and Dahesh bids, although Trump's bid was reportedly higher than the Craft Museum's.

Trump, whose Trump International Hotel and Tower is also on Columbus Circle, told the New York Daily News that he considered the city's decision to keep the Hartford building intact "a terrible waste of a very good asset."

Barbara S. Tober, chairman of the museum's board, told United Press International the Hartford building would provide three times the space of the current Craft Museum, enough for display of some of the Craft collection, which was not possible before. Most of its space on West 53rd Street is given to temporary exhibitions such as the current focusing on contemporary American Indian art of the Southwest.

The Hartford building has never been designated a landmark. So its almost windowless nine-story façade can be changed. Hotchner said an architect will be selected in the near future to discuss possible replacement of the façade with a transparent one. She said any changes would be submitted for pubic review.

"I think we can bring a lot of people and interest to Columbus Circle," Hotchner said, estimating that as many as 600,00 people would visit it annually.

She said the basement auditorium will be used for performances and the penthouse restaurant once known as the Gauguin Room, where Hartford served Polynesian food and drinks, would be reopened.

Sale of the museum building is subject to the city's uniform land-use review procedure that requires public hearings. They are expected to be scheduled next fall.

Some 20 institutions and investors had expressed interest in the building since it was put on the market by the city two years ago. It had been used by the city as headquarters for its convention and visitors' bureau, having been taken over from New Jersey's Farleigh-Dickinson University that used it as an office after the Huntington Hartford Museum was closed.

The reputation of Stone, the building's designer, had been in eclipse until recently. He was branded an apostate by many architects for questioning the rigid orthodoxies of the modern style.

Robert A.M. Stern, dean of the Yale School of Architecture, blames Stone's own inconsistency of style for his being "underrated."

But only recently Stone's New England Science Center in Worcester, Mass., has been rehabilitated and renamed the EcoTarium. And his A. Conger Goodyear residence, in Old Westbury, N.Y., was saved from the wrecker's ball by the World Monuments Fund.

The Craft Museum's purchase of the Hartford building, Stone's major work in Manhattan, would seem to guarantee its future for years to come.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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