“There’s no red tape – that’s what I love about this place,” says Massimiliano Gioni, artistic director of the New Museum. Since 2007 it has been housed in one of lower Manhattan’s architectural gems: seven storeys of metal boxes designed by Tokyo architecture firm Sanaa. The museum, known for its daring and experimental approach to art (Carsten Höller once famously drilled through two of the museum’s floors to construct a slide), traces its beginnings back to 1977 when Marcia Tucker, a former curator at the Whitney, realised that contemporary art produced by living artists often clashed with the fusty rules of traditional museums. Thus the New Museum was founded, with its eyes turned to living artists that had yet to receive widespread exposure or critical acclaim.
Over the course of 41 years, the New Museum has maintained its outsider status, with risk-taking exhibitions often displaying artists who have never received an American museum show. While Gioni heads the museum’s curatorial team, the New Museum’s ethos is collaborative. “It can’t just be my own taste driving the choices,” he says. “It’s a continuous conversation with our team that’s also based on a sense of timing, urgency and need.”
Having no permanent physical collection, the New Museum is free to reinvent itself every three months. It is currently showing the first US retrospective of UK artist Sarah Lucas in a show called Sarah Lucas: Au Naturel. “Typically, museums feel like objects have been borrowed and put on display. But Sarah Lucas has been in control of the whole house,” says Gioni. “We’re more a site of production than a place where art is simply preserved or consecrated."