MoMA Reopens Following $450 Million Expansion

 
October 21, 2019
The Museum of Modern Art in New York has opened its doors to the public, revealing a $450 million expansion designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler. While the overhaul added 47,000 square feet to the museum -- increasing gallery space by by 30 percent -- the makeover is only part of the excitement.

In addition to flexible new galleries -- including a sleek, bi-level Studio for performance-, process-, and time-based art, as well a double-height Projects Gallery, which is one of the new ground floor galleries that is now free to the public -- the  museum took on another major undertaking: the reimagining of how to tell the story of modern and contemporary art.

When MoMA closed in June for four months to complete the final touches to the expansion, its five chief curators led a major reinstallation of art across all 170,000 square feet of the museum. The institution, for the most part, does away with its old model of organizing galleries by mediums or movements, and now presents camera-based art, painting, sculpture, graphic design, printmaking, drawing, and design together in rooms organized loosely by theme.

"Historically, we've shown maybe 1,500 works in the collection galleries," said Susan Suzuki, who is overseeing the museum reopening and who has worked as a curator in MoMA's drawings and prints department since 2016. "In this rotation we're up to 2,500, and in many places you will see artists that haven't traditionally been a part of our story. You'll see many more women artists, African American artists, and artists from different parts of the world."

The museum's effort to diversify its holdings is not a recent one. When asked about the steps it took to grow its collection, Suzuki described the pivotal role of MoMA's Contemporary and Modern Art Perspectives (C-MAP) program, which was launched by former curator Kathy Halbreich about a decade ago. For this in-house initiative, staff members visited regions across the globe in order to make contacts and build first-hand knowledge of a particular place. MoMA also invited internationally based educators, librarians, archivists, and conservators to the museum to help broaden its view of art outside of North American and Western Europe.

Among the exhibitions inaugurating MoMA's new Jerry Speyer and Katherine building are "Projects 110: Michael Armitage," a selection of the Nairobi-born artist's large-scale paintings organized by the Studio Museum in Harlem (which is currently undergoing its own expansion, designed by David Adjaye); Rainforest V (variation 1), 19732015," a sound installation conceived by David Tudor and realized by Composers Inside Electronics in the Studio; and "The Shape of Shape," an array of nearly seventy-five collection works chosen by artist Amy Sillman and displayed as part of the museum's "Artist's Choice" series.

Also on view are the exhibitions "member: Pope.L, 19782001," which focuses on a series of the artist's landmark performances; "Black Girl's Window," the first institutional show dedicated to Betye Saar's work as a printmaker; and "Sur moderno: Journeys of Abstraction," a survey of South American paintings, sculptures, and works on paper donated to MoMA by megacollector and arts patron Patricia Phelps de Cisneros.

While there is no official starting point for visitors, the museum still maintains a sort of chronological spine. The oldest works on view can be found in the fifth floor's gallery 501, which contains paintings, sculptures, and ceramics dating back to the 1880s. According to curator Jodi Hauptman, this room and an adjacent film and photography gallery represent a "transformation of vision," a metamorphosis exemplified by the floating eyeball in an 1882 lithograph by Odilon Redon.

"At the time the artists in this room were working, they were experiencing rapid change," Hauptman said. "There was the industrial revolution and the introduction of moving image works; artists were beginning to see things in a different way.... Even though our visitors will be able to start in different places on campus, if they want to start chronologically, they have to start here."

One major decision for the curators who chose the works installed in these galleries was the elimination of a focal point. In the past, a partition wall in the middle of the room featured Paul Cezanne's The Bather, 1885. "For decades, the Cezanne bather was the beginning," Hauptman said. "But as we revisited the story of modern art, we decided to change that."

While some treasures of MoMA's collection such as Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night, 1889, will always remain on view, visitors to the expanded institution will be able to see them anew. The famous painting is one of several canvases, including Henri Rousseau's The Sleeping Gypsy, 1897, which hangs alongside it, that have undergone surface cleanings while MoMA was closed over the summer.

In order to keep visitors continually engaged with its holdings, MoMA is committed to refreshing 30 percent of the collection galleries every six months, which means that in two years' time, all sixty-two of the "permanent" galleries will showcase a new sampling of the collection. For Suzuki, the "hope is that for people who had maybe become accustomed to skipping the collection galleries, thinking 'I've seen that a million times,' will now think of them as must-see viewings." She added that museumgoers who might have come to expect a kind of causal narrative in these galleries will be surprised by new discoveries, such as the much-discussed pairing of Pablo Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907, with Faith Ringgold's American People Series #20: Die, 1967, which depicts a race riot.

Among other upgrades to the museum are a custom, thirty-seven-foot canopy that overhangs a new Fifty-Third Street entrance, a larger lobby, a reconfigured area for ticketing, a second-floor creativity lab that will be programmed by the museum's education department, a relocated store that now occupies a double-height space on the mezzanine level, and a sixth floor cafe. MoMA will also stay open an extra thirty minutes later than it did pre-expansion (10 AM to 5:30 PM daily and until 9 PM on Fridays).

Artforum