Five years and close to half-a-billion dollars later, Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMa) much-anticipated renovation executed by architecture firms Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Gensler will be unveiled upon October 20. Why is this important? Well, simply put, MoMa actually got a modern facelift—inside and out—something that was long overdue.
For a movement often heralded as avant-garde and experimental, the institutions in charge of displaying Modernist mediums are often mired by a lack of modern aesthetics, from the diversity of race or gender of the artists exhibited to the creativity put into displaying the museums’ artwork. Yet, after a long 90 years, one of NYC’s premier cultural establishments now appears better equipped to take on the task of aligning its founding ideas with its current actions. The renovation is more than just a physically larger, streamlined design, featuring new gallery spaces as well as a new lobby and bookstore; it seems the mindset of one of the largest curators of modern art in the world is now undertaking a more progressive approach by exhibiting interdisciplinary artworks together, promoting artwork from a wider base of artists from around the world, and updating the museum to better question the art it curates. Read on to see how MoMa gets modern.
In addition to being one-third larger, with 40,000 square feet of extra space, every six months a third of MoMa’s art will be reinstalled. This rotation cycle will help the museum keep the art and artists displayed continuously diverse, a very recent undertaking at MoMa. As early as 2004, when MoMa went through a previous reopening, a mere five percent of the permanent art displayed was by women, and this happened in an institution formed by three women, art patrons: Lillie P. Bliss, Mary Quinn Sullivan, and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. In 2019 that number has thankfully risen to 28 percent, with an encouraging 21 percent of the artists shown at MoMa currently hailing from nations outside Western Europe and North America. This increased circulation is meant to ensure the museum continues to cultivate and curate a deep and well-rounded network of artists. It also means NYC museum-goers will have a lot more modern art to chew on.
In terms of design, the museum got more than just welcoming, expansive glass panels that open up the inside of the space along with a new East-West axis. With the integration of the new galleries, located in what is now called the David Geffen Wing, it is finally possible for visitors to loop the three main gallery floors, making the viewing experience far more accessible for visitors. In fact, the museum as a whole is a lot more engaging, with its street-level galleries free and open to all on the expanded ground floor, the facade of the structure on 53rd and 54th street now offering a more inviting glimpse into a more inviting museum. And even though MoMa’s gorgeous flagship bookstore has been moved to the basement, the unbounded design allows passersby to get a peek of the rows of beautiful coffee table books that line the downstairs bookshelves.
Of the many recent additions, the Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Studio, in the heart of the museum, is one of the most important. According to MoMa the space will “feature live programming and performances that react to, question, and challenge histories of modern art and the current cultural moment.” The studio is meant to not only focus on the process of art, but will serve as an introspective anchor to MoMa, fittingly set in the heart of the museum. The second-floor Creativity Lab is also provocative, inviting visitors to connect with art that explores ideas about the present, past, and future.
With all this and more, the extensive renovation certainly seems to have been worth the wait.
One of the casualties of MoMa’s great expansion was the adjacent American Folklore Museum, which was razed to make way for the new galleries in the new David Geffen Wing. To be fair, putting the American Folklore Museum next to MoMa is like putting your average Joe next to Keenu Reeves—he’ll be overshadowed before you can say eclipse.
Despite the ground floor spaces being free of charge, general admission remains costly, with a whopping $25/Rs1,700 for adults and $14/Rs1,000 for students. Despite the museum’s impressive endowments, it seems MoMa is eager to recoup their investment after spending 450 million dollars on the project, a sum that can make you feel queasy if you give it a chance to sink in.
MoMa’s near future is packed to the gills with new exhibitions and workshops. Museum-goers can look forward to Handles, an opening exhibit by South Korean artist Haegue Yang, featuring six active sculptures designed to play with light, sound and geometry. Another exhibition garnering a lot of excitement is Betye Saar’s The Legends of Black Girl’s Window, where the contemporary artist and printmaker explores mysticism, family, and history through her work.
And if the ticket prices seem to steep for the upstairs galleries, the public spaces on the ground floor will host six contemporary artworks by artists Yoko Ono, Experimental Jetset, Kerstin Brätsch, Goshka Macuga, Philippe Parreno and Haim Steinbach. A visit to the new and improved MoMa certainly looks like a bucket list adventure for Modernism fans around the world.
Julian Manning can usually be found eating a crisp ghee roast with extra podi. The rare times his hands aren’t busy with food, they are wrapped around a mystery novel or the handlebars of a motorcycle. He is Senior Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India.