As the Museum of Modern Art’s new chief curator of architecture and design, Barry Bergdoll, who started his job last month, has suddenly become one of the city’s most influential tastemakers. The successor to the controversial Terry Riley, Bergdoll is a Columbia professor and a scholar on Schinkel, Mies, and Breuer. He spoke to Alexandra Lange.
Is it hard to be a design apostle in the age of Design Within Reach?
If MoMA was some early new religion, we are no longer in the missionary phase.
Do you get to pick items from the collection to decorate your new office?
I do. I am doing my own feng shui operation. I am hoping to bring in a large Corbu drawing. We have beanbag chairs on the way.
What do you think of the rise of so-called starchitects?
Architecture has kept all sorts of urgent necessities at arm’s length or, at least, high-profile architecture has. One of the things I think is so exciting—I am sure you’ve seen Al Gore’s film—is that it has made it respectable to talk about topics that were almost taboo.
Are you optimistic about the direction of design in the city?
Even five years ago there was a discrepancy between young, interesting firms who were practicing elsewhere but working in New York and those firms who actually built in New York. There is a bigger overlap now.
But not everything is exactly cutting edge.
The schlock that goes up shows that a version of postmodern conservatism is alive and well. Your white brick buildings are red and yellow brick now, with crude classical detail and boring massing.
What do you think of the current reevaluation of Robert Moses?
I suppose, as perverse as it might seem, that nostalgia for Moses’s scale of intervention is inevitable. How is it possible that there is still no new Penn Station and that ground zero is a veritable tragicomedy?
Speaking of large urban projects, what do you think of Atlantic Yards?
I have to admit I am woefully behind on following it. I better get on that.