MoMA is back. The Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan reopens
Saturday, revealing a sparkling new building and a broader
interpretation of the past century or so of art.
After three years of construction - and a temporary relocation of
its collection to the borough of Queens - MoMA is finally able to
give Cezanne, Pollock, and Warhol more elbow room. The ambitious
project, with an overall cost of $858 million (including $425
million for construction), is being met with praise and a bit of
controversy as the museum celebrates its 75th anniversary.
"This is without question the most important development in
American art museums since Sept. 11," says Neal Benezra, director of
the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, who toured the new building
recently. "In a certain sense, MoMA accomplishing this gives us
license to think big thoughts again. And to feel some degree of
confidence that one can see those big thoughts realized."
For the first time, MoMA is devoting entire galleries to the work
of contemporary artists - a more formal acknowledgement of the
artists' place in the evolution of modern art. MoMA now has the
space to display the large-scale works of those artists and to more
fully develop its entire collection, considered the richest in the
"We've always been interested in contemporary art; we simply
never had enough space to display even our own collection with any
kind of intelligence or integrity," says Glenn Lowry, MoMA's
director, at a recent press preview. "This is a museum that believes
in the idea of modern art as an evolving tradition, an unfolding
tradition that includes works of art from the late 19th century
right to the present."
Plans for the redesign began in the late 1990s. It was clear to
MoMA staff that the museum had outgrown its building - last expanded
in 1984 - and its ability to do justice to its vast collection of
some 150,000 objects in areas ranging from painting and sculpture to
drawing, photography, and design. It also has 22,000 film- and media-
For years, the museum has told a fairly linear story of modern
art, attempting to trace its roots through smallish galleries in
which people could move only in one direction - a "beads on a chain"
configuration, as one curator puts it. "The architecture imposed a
fixed order, and hence we were read as arguing for a singular
narrative, a singular understanding of modern art," says Mr. Lowry.
Open-ended approach to the art
Somehow, the idea of museum as laboratory - inspired by founding
director, Alfred Barr - had to be reinforced. That's the model the
new MoMA aims for, Lowry says, where ideas about modern art are
suggested and debated in a less rigid way. In his view, the new
building offers an opportunity for a more open-ended approach to the
story. The galleries have multiple entrances and exits, he explains,
allowing people to make their own connections and observations about
the "interdiscipinarity" of modern art.
The museum's six floors are ordered in a way that's meant to get
people to consider the contemporary art (floor two) first before
they make their way up to floors four and five to see Andy Warhol's
"Campbell's Soup Cans" or Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night. …