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Manhattan's New Museum of Modern Design

© Thomas Loof Manhattan’s New Museum of Modern Design

Photo: Thomas Loof

Art, craft, and design also rub shoulders in the third-floor display dedicated to the permanent collection, which benefits from its own gallery for the first time in the museum’s history. Take just the ceramics, for example. The works on view range from a large blue-green bowl made in 1946 by Viennese exiles and West Coast husband-and-wife potters Gertrud and Otto Natzler, whose signature crater glaze gives it the appearance of some volcanic artifact; to contemporary avant-gardist Eva Hild’s undulating abstractions in stoneware. There are pieces by fine artists—dabblers in the medium such as Cindy Sherman, whose image, disguised as Madame de Pompadour, appears on a Nymphenburg porcelain soup tureen—and lifelong potters like Betty Woodman, whose classically puffy Pillow Pitcher seems endowed with a quirky, Etruscan grace.

Just below, in the newly opened jewelry gallery (among the first of its kind in this country), the works of 1940’s Greenwich Village bohemians like Sam Kramer—a silver bird pendant, for example, set with a taxidermied eye and betraying the twin influences of biomorphism and surrealism—share space with a distinguished collection of ethnographic jewels and pieces by contemporary conceptualists such as Otto Künzli, whose ironic commentary on our fixation with precious metals takes the form of a gold bracelet entirely encased in black rubber.

With its unique mandate and location, Hotchner fully expects MAD to become a major tourist draw. The museum’s consistent focus on process sets it apart, she says. “We probably wouldn’t have a basic toaster in our collection,” Hotchner explains, “but if we did, we’d have the prototypes and the drawings, and perhaps a film of the artist talking about how it came to be and what forces at the time moved the piece in that direction—whereas MOMA’s design department would put it on a pedestal and declare, ‘this is an important toaster.’”

Still a fly in MOMA’s eye, then?That alone might reassure Huntington Hartford that his building, in MAD’s daring adaptive reuse, had not strayed too far from its original mission. And don’t underestimate the childlike fascination that the process of making things still arouses in people. “In the old days, on 53rd Street,” Hotchner recalled, “the museum used to have a weaver working at a loom in the window. And people would pile up outside to watch her.” Today, visitors to MAD can watch a contemporary woodworker on film or stand right next to the spinning potter’s wheel. Location is everything.

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