Page D1.2 . 24 April 2002                     
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    Folk Art Museum

    continued

    The Face of Folk Art

    But before you enter, you'll want to linger over the honey-colored surface of the front facade. To give this diminutive building an institutional stature that size alone could never deliver, Williams and Tsien have created an abstract wall of 63 metal panels. These panels of tombasil a silicon bronze alloy described by Tsien as a "moody material" invite you to run your hand over them, feeling their bumps and voids, exploring their breaches with your fingers.

    The architects see the facade as an open hand, a symbol of the human imprint that every piece of folk art reveals. This hand-as-wall conceals the immediate scale of the building, so as you approach it along 53rd Street, it is difficult to gage how big the museum actually is. At the lifeline of its palm, you discover the entry.

    Inside the museum's reception area, light draws your eyes upward. You move toward the light. The building balloons above your head, funneling toward a slice of sky that delivers soft northern light through the museum's heart. It's as if the building is revealed to you all at once.

    You see glimpses of art on the upper floors, people slowly circulating, the recurring materials of concrete, wood, and glass. A concrete wall that slices through the middle of the building like a cleaver is filled with glorious folk art pieces weathervanes and such molded by the light. The wall becomes a constant reference point as you move through the museum, guiding your journey toward the light.

    Vertical Exploration

    You can imagine this museum as a big New York townhouse, and it encourages those who can walk to explore it by way of a concrete staircase that threads through the building's northwest corner.

    Those who tour the museum by elevator can still enjoy the variety and sequence of spaces. The elevator is just under the skylit central court, so each time the doors open you are treated to lots of natural light and spatially exciting views.

    The west wall of the main staircase is composed of metal panels and contains an assortment of glass-enclosed niches from top to bottom for displaying works of various sizes and shapes.

    The mezzanine invites you to look back into the entry space, and to further consider from a different vantage point how the building opens to the sun. Here is also found a small cafe that offers views of the museum interior and of 53rd Street below.

    As you might experience in a townhouse, the staircase or elevator delivers you to each floor, which you can then explore in a loop before continuing upward. Generally, the art is comfortably displayed throughout the museum the achievement of award-winning exhibit designer Ralph Appelbaum Associates. The galleries are well-proportioned spaces with plaster walls, wood floors, and the occasional glimpse of concrete and glass.

    Moving through the building via the staircase reveals constant delights, and as you climb higher you discover other staircases that allow you to explore the museum in new ways. For example, connecting the third- and fourth-floor galleries is a broad stair that revels under the building's central skylight. It puts you, the museum visitor, on display as you glide up its generous treads.

    Another staircase connecting the fourth and fifth floors contrasts sharply with the central stair. This one's maple treads are narrow and squeezed against a wall (imagine it as a servant's "back" stair). Along the building's south wall, one constantly discovers narrow slots of floor-to-ceiling windows that offer severely cropped views of the city, literally slices of the vibrant urban life around the museum.   >>>

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    ArchWeek Image

    The American Folk Art Museum by Tod Williams Billie Tsien and Associates presents a broad range of crafts and fine art.
    Photo: Michael Moran

    ArchWeek Image

    Folk art is the creation of untrained, even anonymous, artists and artisans.
    Photo: Michael Moran

    ArchWeek Image

    Throughout the museum, light draws your eyes upward.
    Photo: Michael Moran

    ArchWeek Image

    You see glimpses of art on the upper floors and the recurring materials of concrete, wood, and glass.
    Photo: Michael Moran

    ArchWeek Image

    The tall, narrow building offers views up and down its vertical organization.
    Photo: Michael Moran

    ArchWeek Image

    The new museum is inviting, mysterious, transparent, and rewarding.
    Photo: Michael Moran

    ArchWeek Image

    Floor 1.
    Image: Tod Williams Billie Tsien and Associates

    ArchWeek Image

    Floor 2.
    Image: Tod Williams Billie Tsien and Associates

     

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