American Folk Art Museum sells building to MoMA

The deal will settle the museum’s $31.9m debt from its 2001 construction

The American Folk Art Museum building on West 53rd Street

NEW YORK. Though marking its 50th anniversary this year, the American Folk Art Museum is selling its building on West 53rd Street to its neighbour, the Museum of Modern Art. The Art Newspaper obtained a copy of the letter by board president Laura Parsons to its trustees and top-level supporters detailing the sale, which was approved by their board last night. The cash strapped Folk Art Museum will be able to eliminate its $31.9m bond debt and MoMA, which has first refusal on the sale, will be able to expand its exhibition space.

The Folk Art Museum board approved the sale last night and Parsons wrote, “…as deeply painful as the sale of the building is to all of us it does resolve our financial challenges.” The museum had been plagued by financial shortfalls and weak attendance, although more than 25,000 attended a free exhibition of red and white quilts organised by the Folk Art Museum which was mounted at the Park Avenue Armory in March.

In another letter to museum supporters, Parsons wrote: “The constant burden of servicing and paying down this debt imperils the institution and distracts the museum’s board and staff from our pursuit of programmatic excellence.” Just last week, museum executive director Maria Ann Conelli had submitted her resignation, effective this July, with her farewell notice posted on the museum website. In another sign of the precarious nature of the museum, exhibition planning had come to a halt with no shows planned beyond late fall.

Parsons notes that the museum plans to “energise our dynamic Lincoln Square space and explore collaborative exhibition opportunities.” Their quarters on the West Side opposite Lincoln Center are considerably smaller than the building they are selling and measure only 5,000 sq ft, limiting their ability to stage large-scale exhibitions and especially making it difficult to show weathervanes, a popular folk art category. The museum opened that satellite space in 1989. The main 30,000-sq-ft building—dubbed “the Kleenex box” by critics—is spread over eight levels and designed by architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.

Parsons continues by asking for “support as we shape a new identity and a new operational model for the American Folk Art Museum.”

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16 May 11
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The American Folk Art Museum is not "across the street" from the Museum of Modern Art. It is on the same side of the street.

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