The New MoMA Opens Next Week: Here’s What You Need to Know

From the frieze archives: complete coverage ahead of New York’s Museum of Modern Art’s much-heralded reopening

Exterior view of The Museum of Modern Art on 53rd Street. Courtesy: Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Exterior view of The Museum of Modern Art on 53rd Street, rendering. Courtesy: Diller Scofidio + Renfro

A rejuvenated Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) opens its doors to the New York public next week. Following a four-month hiatus and US$450 million expansion by the architectural firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, MoMA’s gallery space has grown by 30 percent, making way for a new studio dedicated to live and experimental programming. The entire permanent collection has also been rehung, with its curators turning away from telling the story of modern art in a steady succession of movements, instead favouring a thematic approach. There is also a new shop, café and expanded hours, while the museum’s sixth floor, sculpture garden and ground floor galleries are now free, allowing access for visitors who cannot afford to pay the US$25 entry fee.

Member previews run this week and MoMA will be officially open to the public from Monday 21 October.

What Does the New MoMA Mean for Contemporary Art?

‘The first reviews have been largely positive, and I like it, too,’ writes Andrew Durbin in frieze. ‘Does the Museum of Modern Art make you cry? Probably not, nor should it. (I’ll admit, however, that I teared up over a Christopher Williams photograph.) Instead, the new building reflects a Manhattan-style hard-edge realism, itself a Modernist impulse to constantly strive for newness, often in the name of simplicity and mass appeal. You will not find a fire-starting view of art in this new MoMA, where narratives and careers and financial investments might not only be ‘reimagined’, but sent back to the cold white hell from which they’ve so often come. Instead, you will find intelligent even-keeled curation which decentres some narratives and brings others forward, all the while asserting a relatively normative view of art.

What the New MoMA Misunderstands About Pablo Picasso and Faith Ringgold

Jack McGrath discusses the pairing of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) with Faith Ringgold’s American People Series #20: Die (1967): ‘The Ringgold-Picasso pairing has garnered the attention that it begs of its audience, but whether it inspires consternation or praise depends largely on how we conceive of the purpose of this gallery and, by extension, the Museum itself. 

‘The encounter of Die and Demoiselles is fruitful and inspired, but it should get its own gallery with appropriate contextualizing material. Indeed, the collision is so seismic – and the Ringgold so large and saturated – that viewers scarcely notice the other canvases in the room. There is, after all, the urgency of Ringgold’s subject matter. Who, in 2019, when faced with such a powerful depiction of a racialized mass shooting, could possibly care about the finer points of spatial illusionism? There is no contest here. Ringgold solicits a politics so searing that contemplating Picasso’s Ma Jolie (1911–12) verges on indecency. But the gallery in question is none other than the cubism room at the Museum of Modern Art. If not here, then where?

North/south section perspective through the new gallery spaces at The Museum of Modern Art, looking east along 53rd Street. Courtesy: Diller Scofidio + Renfro

North/south section perspective through the new gallery spaces at The Museum of Modern Art, looking east along 53rd Street. Courtesy: Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Learning to Live With MoMA

Plans for MoMA’s refurbishment were initially released in 2014, and critic Jason Farago responded to the designs in frieze: ‘The new designs, by the firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, are surprisingly thin. They are not ‘grand’ and ‘ambitious,’ as the New York Times had it, but wishy-washy and incremental,’ he wrote. ‘Learning to live with MoMA, accommodating oneself to its shortcomings and fishing for the virtues beneath, may be difficult. It seems especially difficult for an older generation who knew the institution, who knew New York itself, when it really was preeminent.’

The Making of a Museum

MoMA first opened in a small space on Fifth Avenue in 1929 before moving to the current address on 53rd street in 1939. Writing in frieze in 2017, Sam Thorne described these early years: ‘The 1930s saw a string of exhibitions presenting colour reproductions of works by artists from Paul Cézanne to Diego Rivera, but also pioneering shows of real-deal paintings by Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso […]. Early on, there was an inquisitive probing of folk art, anonymous makers and ‘modern primitives’. With plainspoken egalitarianism, the design exhibitions attempted to create and educate new consumers.’

‘Oddities are punctuated by flashes of familiarity, moments from decades ago that feel close to our current time. These days, criticisms of museums’ cosiness with celebrity and the entertainment industry are familiar, but, as early as 1968, MoMA organized an exhibition of film stills featuring Greta Garbo; even before that, there was ‘Bambi: The Making of an Animated Sound Picture’ (1942).

Interior view of The Museum of Modern Art, Blade Stair. Courtesy: MoMA; photograph: Iwan Baan. 

Interior view of The Museum of Modern Art, Blade Stair. Courtesy: MoMA; photograph: Iwan Baan

Theories of Evolution: MoMA’s Photography Collection

Writing in 2017, Laurie Taylor described MoMA’s early appreciation of photography: ‘Photography was 100 years old when, in 1940, MoMA (itself then only 11 years old) dedicated an entire department to it. It is worth noting that Tate Modern, a similar institution, did not even have a curator dedicated to photography until Simon Baker was appointed in 2009. MoMA’s intention was not simply to exhibit photography from time to time but, rather, to build a permanent collection of important works by important makers, with significant aesthetic, cultural and social value. They were effectively taking a non-traditional pictorial form and giving it the traditional museum treatment, applying to photography a collection paradigm similar to those used for painting or sculpture.’

‘What are the masterworks? To whom will they be attributed? These are presumably the same questions that were asked when MoMA first added photojournalism and snapshots to its collection of fine, original prints. They will obviously have to be answered again because – despite being an ‘old, conservative’ medium – looking forward and adapting are photography’s lifeblood.’

Read on for frieze’s most recent coverage of MoMA exhibitions:

– Evan Moffitt reviews Lincoln Kirstein’s 2019 retrospective 
– Che Gossett on Bruce Nauman 
– Russell Janzen discusses the Judson Dance Theater 
– Seven artists write open letters to Adrian Piper
– Amy Zion reviews Stephen Shore’s retrospective

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