The difficulty in describing the goals and collections at the Museum of Arts and Design is reflected by the changing name of the institution. It first opened as the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in 1956. The museum was renamed in 1979 as the American Craft Museum. But the term craft is ill-defined and easily misunderstood, often conflated with the kind of outsider, amateur art celebrated at the American Folk Art Museum. So, in 2002, the institution dropped the term and settled on its current, easily-acronymed name. The museum maintains a focus on studio craft but still struggles to communicate exactly what craft is. Instead of trying to figure it out, just come to the museum and see it.
Craft is a subject about which people disagree, often because they are in search of clearly defined boundaries: what craft IS and what it ISN'T
What You Will See
Craft is art. Craft is design. Craft is both profession and amateur. It is a hobby, a vocation, and a virtuosity. Craft produces both the functional and the impractical. This flexibility of definition allows the museum to collect and display a wide variety of works that do not conveniently fit into other categories of creativity. You will see paintings, but not fine art. You will see sculptures, but not polished marble or intricate wood carvings. You will see design objects, but not sleek industrial products or conceptual architecture. You will see accessible masterpieces and casual abstractions. And jewelry. You will see lots and lots of jewelry. Exhibitions in the iconic Columbus Circle building change regularly, supplemented by a constant schedule of tours, lectures, and events.
Why You Should Go
With over two hundred museums in New York City, there is surprisingly little competition or overlap. Museums find a niche and specialize, creating a full spectrum for visitors to choose from. The Museum of Arts and Design is a critical bridge on those spectrums. MAD lies between the polished formality of the Frick Collection and the untrained genius of the Folk Art Museum. MAD fill the gap between the professional design at the Cooper-Hewitt and the tchotchke of the City Reliquary. This is the place to see the great practitioners of esoteric media. Not everything you see here will be to your taste--but there is something for everyone.