For the past 10 years, the Museum of Modern Art has been selling highly designed, museum-endorsed products from an outpost across the street where design seems to have been an afterthought. All that is about to change. Between July 31 and Aug. 14, the MoMA Design Store, 44 West 53rd Street, is putting its Noguchi lamps, Le Corbusier chaises longues and Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired key rings on sale. On Aug. 15, it will close to undergo a quick yet drastic facelift courtesy of 1100 Architect, the seriously trendy West Village firm. (There will be a temporary store in the museum’s lobby.) It will reopen in October, in time for the fall shopping season.
“They told us they wanted to redesign the entire store to reflect and define what MoMA Design Store stands for and how it relates to the museum itself,” said Juergen Riehm, a principal of 1100 Architect. “The current [store],” designed by the now-defunct firm of Hambrecht Terrell International, “is just an ad hoc thing they threw together.”
Even though a museumwide expansion and renovation is under way, designed by the architect Yoshio Taniguchi and expected to be complete in five to six years, MoMA decided that renovating the Design Store could not wait. “We are really looking for a fresh solution to this store, which is at the same time mission- and market-driven,” said James D. Gundell, president of MoMA retail, which also includes the museum’s catalogue and bookstore and a portion of its Web site (www.moma.org).
Mr. Gundell selected the design of Mr. Riehm and David Piscuskas, another partner at 1100 Architect, last summer after approaching a small group of architects for proposals. The 21-member firm is best known in the art world for its clean, classic modern design for Metro Pictures Gallery in Chelsea, the Greenwich Village residence of Eric Fischl and April Gornik, and Ross Bleckner’s six-story house on White Street in TriBeCa. They also designed the interiors of the J. Crew stores on Prince Street and lower Fifth Avenue and the Esprit showroom on Broadway, near 35th Street.
The 3,500-square-foot job at the MoMA Design Store is one of the most prestigious little commissions in New York right now. MoMA was one of the first retail outlets in New York for furniture and accessories by Alvar Kalto, Isamu Noguchi, Marcel Breuer, Mies van der Rohe and other leading architects and designers. Even though those products are now sold in other retail outlets, the design store still has “a symbolic place in the design and architecture community,” according to Mr. Gundell.
As with its other retail spaces, 1100 Architect’s design for the MoMA Design Store, which is being overseen by Ellen Martin, a project architect in the firm, will actually make the customer feel there is less, not more, for sale. Mr. Riehm said this approach will solve the store’s main problem: merchandise overkill. For the most part, the tops of the counters will be cleared of display objects and the merchandise will be filed away neatly in drawers or on aluminum, plexiglass and frosted glass shelves, an 1100 Architect trademark. The store will be lit with neon panels that are recessed into the walls. The flooring will be a deep blue rubberized material that Mr. Riehm refers to as Yves Klein blue, after the French artist who painted striking all-blue paintings.
The new store will also introduce some low-tech solutions to merchandise display. Mr. Riehm said that one of the challenges in designing the space was utilizing the double-height ceiling and finding a way to show a wide range of objects. The entrance will be moved to the west side of the building to dramatize the scale of the double-height space, and merchandise will be projected or displayed on a giant screen that will also carry information about exhibitions currently showing at the museum.
“We wanted to make the store much more of an experiential event,” said Mr. Riehm, “so that you could see and experience objects higher up and have them appear in multiples in a theatrical screen made out of stainless steel mesh.”
MoMA plans to treat the reopening of the design store the way it would the launch of an important exhibition, by inviting luminaries from the design and architecture community. Perhaps some of 1100 Architect’s other stellar clients will show up, too: The firm is currently designing the Lincoln Square apartment of actors Natasha Richardson and Liam Neeson.
1999’s Michelangelo: A Man With a Brand
Thirty-year-old sculptor Toland Grinnell has kissed the downtown art world goodbye and found a way to capitalize on being both talented and beautiful.
Last year, Mr. Grinnell, who had arrived at a signature postmodern-inspired baroque style of work after a couple of years in France and Italy via Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts, decided to part company with his SoHo gallery Basilico Fine Arts. In February, he got a call from a casino developer in Las Vegas and began to work on lucrative projects for the interiors of casinos such as the Venetian, a 3,000-room, Italian-themed resort, part of which opened in May. Then, even though some of his art-world friends advised him against it, he agreed to be branded one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world by People magazine.
“When I decided to leave the gallery … it was rough in the beginning, and then I realized that there was a whole community of people who appreciated what I was doing,” said Mr. Grinnell, who has brown hair and bright green eyes. “And they are not connected to downtown. And then I suddenly realized that art was this gigantic nexus. It was not just between 25th Street and Canal Street. It is colossal. That’s when I realized I was going to be O.K. … I am beginning to understand what I call the new economy of collecting. The scope out there is much bigger than people imagine.
“Right now, I am working on this giant ceiling sculpture,” he explained. “Beautiful relief, covered literally with gemstones set into it, a real extravaganza. As one of the gentlemen who commissioned it from me said, ‘The fun of having you do this is not only do I want to pay you but I get to have one of the 50 most beautiful people in my house measuring my ceiling.’
“I think people like putting a face on art. It makes people comfortable to spend money on art when there is a face. It is no different than being Karl Lagerfeld. Part of the association, part of the brand, is more than the clothes. A brand has multidimensions. This is part of my brand.”