Monday, September 6, 2010

African Art Museum Again Delays Opening of Site on Fifth Avenue

Citing construction delays, the Museum for African Art said on Friday that it had pushed back the planned opening of its new Manhattan home by about six months, from April 2011 to September or October of that year.

The museum will occupy the lower floors of a 19-story condominium building, designed by Robert A.M. Stern, on Fifth Avenue between 109th and 110th Streets. The museum’s president, Elsie McCabe Thompson, said that the building’s developers, Brickman and Sidney Fetner Associates, had failed to complete the core and shell as expected several months ago, and that they were now planning to do so in the next few weeks.

In the meantime the museum’s construction consultants, engineers and architects decided that they could not finish the interior in time for a spring opening.

“It’s a complex situation — I don’t want to lay blame on any one entity,” Mrs. Thompson said. “There’s a lot of factors,” she continued, adding, “It’s quite common.”

Roderick O’Connor, a principal of Brickman, however, said in a phone interview that there had not been any significant delays on its part.

Mrs. Thompson said fund-raising was not a factor in the delay. As of June, the museum had raised only $71 million of the $95 million it needed to pay for construction. Mrs. Thompson said she had since raised an additional $4.5 million. Asked if the museum was considering a phased opening, she said, “I promised a full building, and I’m going to move earth to make it happen.”

Mrs. Thompson, the wife of the former mayoral candidate William C. Thompson Jr., has been pursuing a permanent home for the museum since she took it over in 1997. She first envisioned building on the site a decade ago. The plans were delayed for several years by the withdrawal of the museum’s original development partner, Edison Schools.

Since the museum partnered with Brickman and Sidney Fetner Associates, the opening has been postponed further. When the museum unveiled Mr. Stern’s designs in 2007, it said it would open its new home in late 2009. The date was later pushed back, partly because of the discovery of a quicksandlike layer of sediment under the site.

Mrs. Thompson said she still hoped to open with the planned slate of exhibitions, including a retrospective of the Ghanaian artist El Anatsui and a show of African- and African-American-made baskets.

The museum, which was founded in 1984, has been credited with presenting groundbreaking exhibitions, but it has sometimes struggled financially. Mrs. Thompson and members of the board have said they expect that moving to such a prominent location, on the upper end of Museum Mile, will help attract a large audience, as well as donors and corporate sponsors.

The long journey toward a permanent home, however, has come at some cost to the museum’s visibility. It closed its gallery in Long Island City, Queens, in 2005, though it has created traveling exhibitions and mounted some shows in other spaces since then.

Source: The New York Times

By: Kate Taylor

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