Hints of the New Museum of Modern Art

In the last two days, I've heard two curators from MoMA talk extensively about what the new building and the reinstallation of the art in it will be like. To use the phrase of the evening, I've gotten mixed signals.

Terry Riley discussed Yoshio Taniguchi's building as the next major datapoint in the generations-long experiment of how architecture should address modern and contemporary art. In contrast to the Guggenheims, which engage art with their own influential, expressive intent, MoMA's buildings--almost since its founding--has served as a "machine in the service of art," emphasizing flexibility and utility.

After the powerful statement of Bilbao, Taniguchi's MoMA, Riley said, "restabilizes" and reinvigorates this debate. And it does it with "logic" and "tradition," some of the same principles contemporary artists worked against when making their art.
Nevertheless, Riley predicted people "will be shocked" by the vitality and dynamism these allegedly "conservative" principles bring.

On the art front, Ann Temkin, a curator from Painting & Sculpture, revealed that "Art History 101," MoMA's longstanding, authoritative chronological approach to displaying its renowned collection would return in November, albeit in expanded form. The thematic experiments of the MoMA2000 shows and the Tate Modern's idea-driven installations seem to have reinforced the curators' belief that MoMA's uniquely deep and broad collection come with the unique responsibility to attempt to show this history. They're doing it because they're almost literally the only ones who can.

The "core historical collection" as taken in another generation, and art from the last 30+ years--which is still in process and historical flux--will be shown in consecutive 9-month views. Beyond these accretions and intentional change, the space, the vistas, the juxtapositions and potential paths generated by the new building are probably the greatest difference.

I've been in the almost completed building, and it is literally jaw-dropping. The atrium and the contemporary galleries are massive, and even the upper, historical galleries feel huge. MoMA's got an unparalleled collection, sure, but I have to think that the building's--the institution's--new monumentality may end up overwhelming and subsuming many of the works we remember quite intimately. Some may even find it shocking.

Barely related: Not that anyone cares, but there's some satisfaction in knowing that Charlie Finch got it almost 100% wrong.

Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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first published: September 30, 2004.

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