Posted at 1:30pm, February 11, 2004
The replacement of the Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp last summer by Nicolai Ouroussoff was thought by many in the city’s high-strung architecture community as ushering in a blander, but less agenda-laden, era at the paper. Then Terence Riley, MoMA’s Philip Johnson chief curator of architecture and design, read Ouroussoff’s dismissive piece on February 4. It essentially said Riley, whose department was founded by the recently deceased Johnson, didn’t measure up to his forebear, and called his suite of galleries in the new museum a “lifeless mix” with “the feel . . . of a high-end furniture and design showroom.” This prompted Riley to fire off a scathing letter to Ouroussoff quoting Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (like Big Daddy, he detected “the odor of mendacity”). He accused the critic of “evidently conflicted feelings towards me personally” and of taking “the cheapest of shots” while Riley was still grieving for Johnson. He added that he intended to distribute the letter to “some of our nearest and dearest.” By February 10, Riley said he hadn’t yet heard back from Ouroussoff (who also didn’t return our call by press time), but stressed that “I didn’t send it to the Times. I sent it to Nicolai."