The December 2010 issue of Art in America has an interesting essay by Peter Plagens on the failure of new American museums (and additions). As architecture, that is, as museums, I think the essay is right. American art museums are increasingly badly designed buildings. Make a distinction here between the buildings as architecture and the buildings as art objects. Maybe they succeed in the latter sense, some of them at least. I am a bit doubtful, but at least that category is truer to what the architects seem to be aiming at. The argument of the essay is that American museums are far more expensive than corresponding efforts overseas, the results are inferior buildings and inferior museum buildings. One get massive buildings with remarkably small amounts of gallery or display space. Instead, the buildings include giant entries, entryways that soar three stories. This is largely useless space. The galleries, in contrast, are modest and disorganized. The latter point is important to visitors. The galleries have no natural flow, and include little or nothing to indicate to visitors where they should go or how to get about the museum. My experience is consistent with the observations of the essay. MoMA’s addition does not appreciably increase what is on display, and it does not really have a natural progression. True, the entry space has been put to use. Credit due. But put to use how? Performance pieces are mounted that interpret movement, that have no real place inside the museum. (The monetizing of performance art is, in its way, shocking. The notion that there is a museum (or part of a museum) devoted to curating or preserving art that by its nature was ephemeral performance, art of a moment, is both bizarre and a sad indication of the intellectual bankruptcy of the art profession. Enough of that digression. The massively expensive buildings do not enhance access to or understanding of the contents of the buildings – the art. Some of the problem, I think, is that museums want new buildings that are themselves attractions, more than they want new improved space for the art already in the museum. (So I do not think that the figure to hold up, pace Plagens, is Geary.) It is not just boards of museums and the absurdly wealthy folk funding the things, another piece is the weakness of architectural criticism. It is a good indicator of how serious the problems are in the critical world when a building housing hundreds of workers is praised without any notice that it has just two bathrooms. It is as though the architects and their critics have come to think that the little drawings of people they place in around their designs are real.