Holly Hotchner is very gracious in the first part of her comment about my review of NYC Makers, and I am happy to return the compliment. I remain in absolute awe of her achievements: moving The Museum of Arts and Design from 53rd Street to 2 Columbus Circle, raising funds (which was never easy for MAD), negotiating NYC’s labyrinthine city government, bringing the board along with her, weathering the firestorm of criticism for removing Durell’s original facade and the court challenges that followed. It must have been brutal.
It is a stunning achievement and a victory of determination. She moved a modest institution into a position of geographic prominence in the city and increased its audience by 1000%. And with that everything did begin to change.
However she states that I have made “many” factual errors in my review. I am prickly about being accused of errors. I suppose that comes from my early training as a journalist. When I make mistakes I apologize and correct them. Now, I may well have made some factual errors, but Hotchner does not present any fact that was incorrect. Here are her remarks:
“I rarely respond to articles such as these but there are many errors that if printed again and again seem to become truths. I have to take issue with Garth’s representation of facts as the founding Director of the Museum of Arts and Design and yes the one who changed the name…
“A name does not an institution make. And while the discussion of the renaming of American Craft to Museum of Arts and Design is old news I wish to report that MAD has become a beloved tag name and place to visit both in the Art community and the many new and diverse communities that make up the public— in our fourth year we had 500,000 visitors and were the 4th most visited Museum in the city.[That] must indicate that the content was driving the institution. And far from damaging the credibility of the old Museum (What credibility? 40,000 visitors per year? 2,000 members? I could go on) it has become a world-class institution.
Does the V&A or the Whitney or the Cooper Hewitt or the Met describe what they do in their names???”
First of all, I never quoted or misrepresented any of the figures she presents. Nor did I say that the name change destroyed the credibility of the old museum. She is right, it had none.
Let’s deal with the name issue. Yes, I dislike the MAD tag and here Holly and I have different experiences. Mine is that it is widely disliked and certainly it has been parodied the press and the crafts community.
What it lost in the name change was the trust of the crafts community. I am writing this from the amazing bucolic hive of the Penland School of Crafts. Largely because of a seething controversy about the Makers show, MAD has been a hot topic over meals and other gatherings. The sense of betrayal and antagonism from the working craft community is still palpable. And, yes, I can say that as a fact.
What I find very curious, though, is the ironic sentence, “A name does not an Institution make.” If that is so why did Holly lead the charge to change the American Craft Museum’s name? Holly told me herself that without the name change they could not get funding and credibility to make the move. So it seems a name means a lot, particularly for a museum that is now on name number three.
The remarks about the V&A, and the Whitney are disingenuous. Can we really compare MAD to these two warhorses? And she is incorrect about the Cooper Hewitt; its full title includes “National Design Museum.” More importantly none of these institutions carry any language that confuses their identity, nor have they ever changed their mission in any meaningful way. I also disagree that exhibition programming is responsible for the attendance numbers. True, their programming has gotten better, uneven and thematically scattered, but better. David McFadden’s magisterial exhibition and book Daniel Brush: Blue Steel Gold Light in 2012 was one of the five best art shows in New York that year. Crafting Modernism was a huge success with the critics.
However, I do not believe that exhibitions were the major force in driving attendance growth. The programing has been similar fare to what was served up at 53rd Street in its last years. MAD paid around $160 million, maybe more, to get those numbers. That was roughly the cost for the new building (please correct me if I am wrong) on one of the busiest and most prestigious intersections in New York City. It is a dynamite site and, yes, the increased attendance comes from many physical improvements (a very popular shop, a theater for film, craft studios for education and a restaurant), some good shows, great social programming and also from the vitality and youthful energy that the new space engendered. But let’s be honest: the three most important factors were location, location and location. We do have Holly to thank for that.
The numbers are strong, not enough to make the 100 top art museums in the world, but close. Number 100 in attendance (according to Wikipedia) are the Freer and Sackler Galleries at 613,000 visitors a year. MAD is nearby and certainly strong enough to make the top 200. That is impressive.
However, I have a problem with Holly’s “4th most visited museum” claim. If we take the Natural History Museum, The Met, MoMA, Guggenheim, and Whitney for starters that is five and it’s doubtful that MAD exceeded their numbers. I am sure that that statement is missing a few qualifiers like “art,” or “contemporary.” Either way, as I said before, it is still impressive.
Lastly, I wonder about Holly’s claim that MAD “has become a world-class institution.” What it definitely has is a world-class address. Holly’s legacy is a great one in that she and her team (David McFadden in particular and Lowery Sims) have brought MAD to a place where it can become a world-class institution. That is Glenn Adamson’s charge as the new director.
Makers aside there is an enormous amount of goodwill and optimism that Adamson will get there, in part because he knows that one of things that makes a museum world-class is its scholarship, and that has always been the Museum’s Achilles heel. There is a small army of us that want to see MAD succeed and tough criticism is part of the love, praise for goals achieved is the other. Holly put MAD on the map. Glenn needs to empower its staff to raise its intellect and sharpen its identity.
Garth Clark is the Chief Editor of CFile.
Above image: A sketch by Matthew Causey of Garth Clark speaking at the Back To The Future conference in Charlotte, NC, October 16, 2012.
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