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in other words

Everything you ever wanted to know about the art market but didn't know who to ask
23 October 2019

Articles in This Issue

#68 Live Review: The New MoMA

Our take on the update

Faith Ringgold, American People Series #20: Die (1967)


The Museum of Modern Art reopens this month after a $450m expansion that has added more than 47,000 sq. ft and many new galleries that tell a different story of modern and contemporary art.

In this podcast, AAP co-founder Allan Schwartzman and In Other Words host Charlotte Burns review the radical rehang of the permanent collection.

To hear more, tune it today.

It Is Easy to Sling Mud at a Giant

Why a visit to the new MoMA is more than worth the trip

Installation view of "Artist’s Choice: Amy Sillman—The Shape of Shape"

BY Allan Schwartzman
publisher of In Other Words, co-founder of AAP & chairman of Sotheby's Global Fine Arts

In Allan's Intro

It is so easy to sling mud at the giant. I’ve been reading snipes all week long. My profoundly pleasurable journey through the new Museum of Modern Art put me in too good a mood to look for warts yet. 

The last reopening of MoMA was such a disheartening experience. It had been supposed to undo the “department store” that César Pelli built in 1984 and to poke holes in the labyrinth—to begin to rethink the canon as it had been written by the creators of MoMA—an institution that spawned all museums of modern art. In the end, it didn’t.

Installation view of “Sur moderno: Journeys of Abstraction―The Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Gift”

But this time, with confidence and even humility, authority and curiosity, the world’s greatest collection of Modern masterworks is offered up as a library for learning, a sequence of re-examinations of history and geographies, that at times looks at the past through the eyes of the present, and the present in dialogue with its forebears. Hey, the whole thing would have been worth the venture if the only jarring juxtaposition were that of Faith Ringgold with Pablo Picasso. There alone is a badge of curatorial guts, wisdom—and a visual curiosity worthy of volumes of historical rethinking.  

But that moment doesn’t stand alone. Even while maintaining flow through the great journey of art in the 20th century, gallery after gallery, there are many moments of spacious splendor, surprise and re-examination. Undoubtedly many works will almost always be on view, and still, one experiences the new MoMA as if walking through a laboratory of artistic greatness that is subject to periodic review.

Decades ago, everyone thought of the Museum of Modern Art as their MoMA. There was a special quality to the place, an intimacy of journey and experience that enabled choice and welcomed viewers to find their special spots. Now, after decades of corporatization, spatial order, and some curatorial wobble (there were two or three decades of that), once again you can find those special places you may want to make a beeline for when you have less than an hour to kill; to take a few turns, dip down a staircase of uncommon residential intimacy for a big museum to find next morsel, and then go on with your day. The new MoMA leaves a lot of room for one to find one’s own MoMA.

The Good and the Less Good

A critic’s take on the museum’s facelift

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907)

BY Christian Viveros-Fauné
art and culture critic

In Must See

New York’s Museum of Modern Art believes bigger is better. Following its nearly two-decade-long embrace of architectural supersizing, a quick rundown of MoMA’s newest renovation puts into perspective both the museum’s expansion and its recent curatorial reboot.

Four months and $450m after temporarily closing in June, the most recent chapter of MoMA’s makeover is ready for its close-up, opening to the public on 21 October. Kicked off in 2004 by Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi at a cost of $425m, the museum was subsequently enlarged in stages, starting in 2014 by the US firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, in collaboration with Gensler.

The most recent chapter of MoMA’s makeover is ready for its close-up. Here, an interior view of the Blade Stair. Photo: Iwan Baan. Courtesy of MoMA

For its 2019 relaunch, the museum has updated its slicked-back corporate image with a host of luxury mall amenities:a new canopied entrance on 53rd Street, a revamped lobby, a vast basement gift shop, free street level art displays, a sixth-floor terrace café run by Danny Meyer, and a total of 102,000 additional sq ft of space—47,000 of which is dedicated solely to exhibitions of the MoMA collection.

Mostly located in the new David Geffen Wing beneath 145 super-high-net-worth apartments housed inside Jean Nouvel’s 53 West 53 “supertall”—the term itself charts the global development of billion-dollar skyscrapers—these same galleries paradoxically play host to the museum’s most inclusive move in nearly a century: MoMA’s opening of its permanent collection to majority minority America and the world.

Leaving behind an adherence to a beads-on-a-string rosary of “isms”, this new MoMA has made room for a more expansive history that features objects—many of them recently acquired—made by women, African Americans and Latinos, as well as art from Africa, Asia and South America. The museum’s recent bro-hug of multiculturalism, which actually feels more like a retrofit, takes place within an institutional envelope brimming with Gilded Age 2.0 privilege. How else to describe an expansion largely paid for by mega-moguls?

Inside the museum, the rough outline of MoMA’s once unabashed tale of heroic modernism lives on, albeit tweaked here and there by shadings of contemporary “difference”. Rather than organizing its holdings by disciplines, MoMA has adopted an integrated approach that shuns official mention of movements—those pesky “isms”!—while frequently breaking with chronology to allow for the inclusion of works by artists not historically favored by sex (male heterosexual), race (white European) or geography (the US and Western Europe). The idea resembles, not so accidentally, similar overhauls at rival museums, like London’s Tate Modern and Paris’ Centre Pompidou. It is also long overdue. In theory, what’s not to like?

MoMA’s newest renovation puts into perspective both the museum’s expansion and its recent curatorial reboot. Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night (1889). Image courtesy The Museum of Modern Art

In practice, the museum’s at times dexterous, often tactical swapping of art objects results in a few fireworks, but just as many misfires. The juxtaposition of Pablo Picasso’s Les Desmoiselles D’Avignon (1907), the painting that launched a thousand jangly portraits, with Faith Ringgold’s white riot of a painting, American People Series #20: Die (1967), sends sparks—along with echoes of Ferguson and Hong Kong—flying throughout the museum’s tony fifth floor. On the other hand, a second room containing works by Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Francis Picabia—it relays the story of the “Readymade in Paris and New York”—includes a wan Beatrice Wood poster, along with trace elements of “Where’s Waldo?”

MoMA has made room for a more expansive history that features objects made by women, African Americans and Latinos. Here, Tarsila do Amaral’s The Moon (A Lua) (1928). The Museum of Modern Art, New York

As the permanent collection advances, so does curatorial box-checking: Van Gogh’s The Starry Night (1889) shares space with George Ohr’s “Mad Potter of Biloxi” bowls; De Stijl and Suprematist painted abstractions with Sherrie Levine’s Reagan-era appropriations of the same. One possible conclusion to be drawn is that MoMA’s burdensome inclusiveness has arrived hampered by a conspicuous curatorial tic.

Viewed charitably, the museum can alternately be seen to be making up for lost time. Still, the experience makes for strange viewing: when I arrived at Claude Monet’s Water Lilies (1914-1926), I found myself automatically searching for the requisite object that could constitute the room’s obvious outlier (thankfully, there were none).

According to MoMA’s recent literature the museum currently allows for approximately 2,400 works to be on view at once, around 1,000 more than previously. But the institution’s commitment to greater inclusion does not stop there. Recently, the museum announced that it plans to swap out a third of its collection—held in galleries located on floors five, four and two—every six months. What that augurs for October 2020 is anyone’s guess, but bets are that tourist favorites Desmoiselles, Starry Night, Water Lilies, along with Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962) and Jasper JohnsFlag (1954-55), will remain, with works cycled in and out to complement the narratives conveyed by those marquee properties.

Tourist favorites like Claude Monet’s Water Lilies (1914-26) will remain, with works cycled in and out to complement the narratives. 

Which begs a thicket of questions. Does canonical modernism still carry the day at MoMA? Are the museum’s current efforts at inclusion profound or skin deep? What about the museum’s non-tourist favorites? A partial answer is that the institution will have its work cut out in adapting to the anti-formalist, largely oppositional narratives that characterize the art of global alterity.

That observation reasonably leads to another, perhaps more fundamental question: can an institution like MoMA, corporatized from stem to stern, elevate the narratives of, say, Lotty Rosenfeld’s video of a political action staged inside Pinochet’s Chile, or Martin Wong’s epochal painting of a derelict Lower East Side corner, Stanton Near Forsyth Street (1983), into becoming the Desmoiselles and Starry Night of the 21st century?

The answer, I fear, lies in an opportunity MoMA squandered at the start of the millennium. That was in 2002, when the museum closed its flagship Manhattan space to open a temporary outpost it christened MoMA QNS. Forced by the Taniguchi construction to decamp to an old factory in Long Island City, the museum reshuffled its collection, and partially, though temporarily, threw off its buttoned-down mission. Two years later, on the 75th anniversary of its founding, the museum shut the doors on that adventure, returned to its staid steel-and-glass 53rd Street digs, and doubled down on becoming a corporate behemoth.

Slideshow: Works on View Now at MoMA

What’s on view this fall

BY Julia Vennitti
editorial assistant

In Slideshows

New Gift Shop in My Bag, Swag

BY Kaitlin Chan

In Cartoons

by Kaitlin Chan

Art Agency, Partners is a bespoke art advisory firm founded in 2014, and built upon decades of combined experience, to provide counsel to many of the world's leading art collectors and institutions on collection assessment and development, estate planning, and innovative approaches to museum giving and growth.