The New Museum of Contemporary Art in the Lower East Side is composed of white walls, glass, steel and florescent lights—being inside feels like infiltrating an iPod. How very modern and fitting for a contemporary museum. But the question remains, how long will looking like an iPod be new and when does our contemporary art become outdated? I doubt this museum will look modern after 10 years.
Comprised of seven floors, the inside is small and the outside is the most interesting thing about the building. The façade is made up of numerous steel rectangles with a rainbow sign reading, “Hell Yes,” on the side, and, it lights up at night. The top floor of the museum looks out toward south Manhattan, a nice view from the glass room. This is the only area where there really are windows. The 5th floor has the feeling of a classroom, low ceilings, workstations with iMacs cluttered around diagram-like displays—luckily that was the direction it was supposed to go in as it is “The Education Center.”
Floors four through two are larger and have high ceilings. But they are too small for the installations and the space felt claustrophobic. My least favorite aspect of the new museum was the lighting. Fluorescent lights glared down giving the crowd the pallor of a cheap dressing room. Sure it’s good for seeing the art, but if they had incorporated a way to have more natural light come in or less watts, then the area would have benefited.
The fist floor has a large expanse of space where the ticket counter and elevator are. And on the neighboring wall is a room separated from the lobby with glass, good for viewing the video installation placed there. Of course there is a gift shop that is minimally segregated from the room by a steel mesh “fence,” giving barely a hint to what lies behind it. My absolute favorite part of the museum was the elevators. Lime green metal walls deck the tall cab—it’s colorful and roomy. In fact, besides the bathrooms the only color the museum has is in the elevator.
Now in the basement are the bathrooms (the woman’s bathroom at least) while the colored tiles placed on the walls in a floral pattern were cool, it seemed two or three people had worked on the fixtures. The toilets were manual (surprising in the modern world of automatic flushers) but the sinks were digitized. There was no toilet paper, no paper towels and on the museums opening night, they had to print a sign to let the visitors know where the hand dryer was. Not that the bathrooms are the end all, but, they do tend to have theme with the buildings structure and layout.
For the most part it’s the concept of The New Museum that is intriguing. This winter it will deck the insides in a chaotic fashion of contemporary sculpture that will be added on to over the course of a few months with a project called Unmontumental. The building itself is enough of a contemporary sculpture that if you want to save a buck, just stand outside and look at it. –Linnea Covington
The New Museum is located at 235 Bowery at Prince Street in the Lower East Side; (212) 219-1222. “Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st Century” is currently on display until March 23. http://www.newmuseum.org/