Cool, Calm and Collected; New York's Museum of Modern Art Is Back in Business: Svelte and Shiny, Writes Jonathan Glancey, Compared with Our Brooding, Industrial Tate

Article excerpt

I'm just not sure. Will the gleaming new Museum of Modern Art in the heart of Manhattan continue to look and feel as messianically clean and glossy as it did in the days leading up to its turbo-hyped opening? I think of Tate Modern back across the Atlantic and up along the Thames. On a good day, for the Tate, the former power station is often packed to the gunwales with visitors. It has the feel of some grandly cinematic airport departure lounge crossed with a brutalist concrete shopping mall the week before Christmas, with a dark dash of Piranesi's 18th-century prison engravings added to the battering mix. I am sure this is great: culture for all. Pile it high, pack'em in. Everyone loves a winner.

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The new-look MoMA is, from an architectural point of view, the polar opposite of Tate Modern. Where the titanic Tate is, at core, a dark and brooding industrial brick, steel and concrete colossus, MoMA is supercool and shiny, like some svelte downtown office block, rich with the art hanging from its sheer white walls, dangling from soaring atriums and lining minimalist lobby after minimalist lobby. Similar to a supremely self-confident corporate headquarters, it seems the stuff of hushed corridors, sleek executives, silent escalators and purposeful, lucrative activity. All that green slate from Vermont and black Zimbabwean granite, those forests of oak floors, the mesmerising vistas of stairs crossing stairs oh so high in what becomes, as the eye loses focus, almost pure architectural ether.

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In truth, MoMA will be as packed with visitors as Tate Modern, perhaps even more so, each paying $20 for the privilege. This is, in every way, an expensive and yet discreetly ambitious piece of architecture. Twice as big as Tate Modern and occupying a large chunk of the city block between West 53rd and 54th Streets, it is effectively a brand-new building. Involving extensive gutting and demolition, the overhaul has cost more than $800m.

The architect is Yoshio Taniguchi (born in 1937), a discreet, Tokyo-based perfectionist who has worked with painstaking and diplomatic care to translate meticulous Japanese attention to architectural detail to an altogether rougher and readier New York construction site. When Taniguchi's winning design for the museum was announced in 1997, some commentators called for a more dramatic building, something along the lines of, say, Frank Gehry's bombastic Bilbao Guggenheim. After all, it was at MoMA in 1932, three years after it was founded by Alfred H Barr, that the architect Philip Johnson and historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock mounted a show of international modern architecture that truly revolutionised building design in the US. …