Earlier this month, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) on behalf of the Department of Cultural Affairs released a request for proposals for the latest overhaul at the half-century-old Bronx Museum of the Arts: a new South Wing Atrium and entrance at the southwest corner of the acclaimed cultural hub, abutting 165th Street and Grand Concourse. Per the NYCEDC, the current atrium space will be demolished and replaced by an “iconic new multi-story entrance and lobby.”
As detailed in a press release announcing the RFP, the major planned renovation calls for the creation of a “spacious lobby that includes seating, gathering space and large street-facing walls for artwork.” The art-showcasing new space is envisioned as an extension of the sidewalk, connecting with the community, enticing passersby to visit the museum, and “offering multiple opportunities for art and public programming to be visible from the street.”
“As we celebrate our 50th anniversary and look towards the next 50; this project presents a unique opportunity to envision and realize what a 21st century, community-based, globe-spanning museum should be,” said Klaudio Rodriguez, executive director of the Bronx Museum of the Arts, in a statement. “The renovation will strengthen our capacity to meet our community’s needs, by amplifying our ability to educate, engage and accommodate our visitors. The project will simultaneously reflect our values and priorities, including our commitments to accessibility, equity, and transparency.”
“Our board and staff are deeply appreciative of the efforts by our City and all of the project’s stakeholders in this exciting next step for our museum’s visibility and continued growth, and look forward to enhancing the museum experience for our Bronx Community and visitors from near and far,” added Bronx Museum of the Arts Board Chair Joseph Mizzi in a statement provided to AN.
The Bronx Museum of the Arts is one of a small number of New York City museums that has “removed economic barriers to entry and participation in programs” by offering free admission. Instituted in 2012, the new admission policy yielded quadrupled attendance within just a few years. The museum first opened in May 1971 within the art deco first-floor rotunda of the Bronx County Courthouse and a series of satellite galleries across the borough. In 1983, the museum’s current home at the old Young Israel Synagogue, a mid-century structure designed by Simon B. Zelnick in the Concourse section of the South Bronx, opened to the public following a multi-million-dollar conversion. Five years later, the atrium-anchored South Wing expansion designed by Castro-Blanco, Piscioneri & Feder was completed to accommodate the museum’s growing collection. However, the sleek glass and steel addition, later described as “awkward” and possessing the “feel of a suburban mall” by New York Times critic Nicolai Ouroussoff, was markedly short on new exhibition space.
Another expansion followed in 2006, this one helmed by Miami’s Arquitectonica. The new, three-story North Wing debuted with a second-story sculpture garden, new gallery space, education-dedicated spaces, and an idiosyncratic pleated aluminum facade likened to an accordion. Reactions to Arquitectonica’s North Wing were largely positive. “[…] the addition is a reminder of how architecture can have a profound public impact when its values are in the right place,” wrote Ouroussoff in his same assessment for the Times. “And it demonstrates how simple it can be to bridge the divide between art and its audience at a time when much bigger, more high-profile museums and their ultra-rich boards can seem baffled by their cultural roles.”
In May 2016, it was announced that Mónica Ponce de León, the Venezuela-born architect and dean of the Princeton University School of Architecture, would lead a $15 million South Wing overhaul/atrium reimagining project envisioned as the first phase of a larger $25 million museum facelift. That project was slated for completion in 2020. Although the museum vowed to forge ahead with the planned atrium overhaul following a controversial internal shake-up that came just three months after the capital campaign was announced, those exact plans, similar in overall scope to the ones just announced, never came to fruition. The involvement of Ponce de León is not mentioned in the latest revamp announcement/capital campaign update.
With over 2,000 works in its permanent collection, the Bronx Museum of the Arts has garnered widespread recognition for its focus on showcasing contemporary and 20th-century art, particularly works produced by Bronx-based and -born artists, artists of African, Asian, and Latin American ancestry, and other creators “not typically represented within traditional museum collections,” per the NYCEDC. Current exhibitions include the group show Born in Flames: Feminist Futures and Amerika. God Bless You If It’s Good To You, an exhibition of new works by Harlem-based artist Wardell Milan.
“The Bronx Museum is a true jewel of our borough, and one of the most important cultural institutions in our city,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. “This new proposal will allow for a much-anticipated expansion of this important creative space for our community. As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the arts will play a critical role in this process, that is why I am proud to have allocated over two million dollars in funding to this project.”
RFP submissions from interested parties can be submitted no later than August 2.