MOMA Weds Art, Architecture; N.Y. Museum Spacious

Article excerpt

Byline: Joanna Shaw-Eagle, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

NEW YORK - The much-hyped expansion and renovation of New York's Museum of Modern Art is a near-perfect marriage of modernist art and minimalist architecture. The new MOMA, designed by Tokyo-based architect Yoshio Taniguchi, was unveiled to the public with much fanfare on Nov. 20 to mark the museum's 75th anniversary.

The core of this complex new space is a soaring 110-foot-tall atrium that lets in natural light and fleeting city vistas while anchoring the six-story-high glass structure with materials such as black granite, green slate, Georgia marble and aluminum. Spanning the entire lobby space and gradually narrowing as it stretches upward, the light-filled atrium dominates the whole.

Huge windows and translucent walls act as grace notes throughout the museum, diffusing even more light throughout the now 630,000-square-foot building.

Mr. Taniguchi, 67, who won the MOMA invitational architectural competition over other prestigious architects such as Frank Gehry and Richard Meier, never let his vision overwhelm the art - a failing all too common among today's museum designers.

Unfortunately, however, there's a major insult to one of MOMA's greatest paintings, French impressionist Claude Monet's groundbreaking, 42-foot-long "Waterlilies" (circa 1920). Once housed in its own meditative, curved-wall room, the horizontally oriented, three-panel work is now pulled across a gigantic, second-floor wall almost hidden by Barnett Newman's kitschy "Broken Obelisk" sculpture (1963-1969).

Despite this significant gaffe, the architect's and curators' choice of Auguste Rodin's towering "Balzac" as the museum's artistic focus couldn't be better. Positioned near the museum's entrance, "Balzac" (plaster version done during 1892-1897, posthumously cast in bronze in 1939 ) first faces visitors in the kind of daylight that picks out the great French novelist's craggy features and daringly exaggerated robe.

At closing time, however, a different "Balzac" emerges. Darkness sets in from the outer sculpture garden while dramatic spotlights pour from the ceiling above, giving the writer a godlike, even threatening, appearance.

The MOMA has a vast collection of images tracing the evolution of modern and contemporary art over the last 125 years. In organizing that material into an almost chronological pattern that allows interruption by several of Mr. Taniguchi's larger spaces, John Elderfield, chief curator of the museum's department of painting and sculpture, has adroitly complemented the architect's redesign.

The second-floor Contemporary Galleries, with their 22-foot-high center ceilings and 15,000 square feet of column-free space, showcase art created between 1970 and 2004 . It's art on which the jury is still out. Only Gordon Matta-Clark's "Bingo" (1974), a reconstruction of parts of a rotting abandoned house, seems new and fresh. …