Space to Elaborate ; the Museum of Modern Art Reopens in Newly Expanded Glory, Bringing Works out of Storage and into the Spotlight

By Kim Campbell writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, November 19, 2004 | Go to article overview

Space to Elaborate ; the Museum of Modern Art Reopens in Newly Expanded Glory, Bringing Works out of Storage and into the Spotlight


Kim Campbell writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


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 world.

"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- related items.

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. …

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