Charlotte Burns: Hello and welcome to In Other Words, where we cover everything you ever wanted to know about the art world, but didn’t know who to ask.
So, this month, The Museum of Modern Art in New York reopens after a $450 million renovation and expansion, that has added more than 47,000 sq ft, and many new galleries that tell a different story of modern and contemporary art.
I’m your host, Charlotte Burns, and today, Allan Schwartzman, co-founder of Art Agency Partners and I tell you about the preview we had of the museum earlier this week.
Allan Schwartzman: If ever this was a moment in history where we need to be reminded of the central role of the artist in art history, it’s now. It is a breath of fresh air.
Before we begin, here is a quick reminder to subscribe to our In Other Words newsletter at artagencypartners.com. Now, onto today’s show.
Allan, it’s being billed as a radical rehang. Do you think that it felt radical?
Allan Schwartzman: I don’t even know if I want to use the word radical. Because radical is a word that’s so specifically associated with the avant-garde, and which is so embedded in the museum. So, let’s just use a slightly different terminology, but say, I think it’s a magnificent reexamination of the museum and its collection.
And, in many ways, yes, I guess it is, I’ll use the word “radical” for MoMA to have done this.
But I don’t think it’s radical as a historical gesture. I think it’s timely and appropriate. These are ideas whose time has come.
The Museum of Modern Art was the first museum of Modern art. It wrote the canon of what we have understood the history of Modern art to be. We all know that this is a very Paris-centric story, and that the MoMA story shifts location after World War II, where it says, “All the great art is art made in America.”
And we know that those aren’t the truth of that history. But it was how we understood it. It’s how our museums followed MoMA’s lead. And almost all of them collected similarly. And it set the pacing for all private collecting.
What we’ve learned in recent decades is, well, it’s a more complex story. There were other areas of development, of modern ideas in art, separate from and parallel to Paris. There were lots of dialogues going back and forth. There’s the whole history of Expressionism in Germany, for example, which is also coming out of the Soviet Union, at a similar time. We know that Fontana, in many ways, is as important in post-war European art as Pollock is to post-war American art. We know that there are histories in Latin America that we hadn’t paid attention, in Eastern Europe, in Asia, and so on.
We are in a period where we are reevaluating, we’re questioning the orthodoxy.
And we’re also living in a time where contemporary art is radically reconfiguring what it identifies as significant, and whose voice is meaningful—which is indeed shifting the course of collecting and museum practice. And when our view of the art of the present shifts. It has a direct impact on the art of the past.
And so MoMA was the place where we went to see the greatest hits of the most articulately and exquisitely assembled collection of this great line of Modern art coming out of Impressionism, being radicalized by Picasso and Cubism, and then how that plays itself out. And it even played itself out through architecture, in MoMA, where you would go from one room to another. And each room would then tell you the next step within the story.
What would have been radical, maybe for them to do 30 years ago, is now really just enlightened and exquisite and beautifully done. I think the experience of walking through MoMA, even with this much more space, is a very different experience.
Charlotte Burns: Yeah, so let’s start on the fifth floor. Let’s go back in time. The permanent collection is what we’re really focusing on here.
One of the things that happens in all the galleries throughout the museum is that the actual hang, there’s less heroism to the hang itself. We know the greatest hits of the MoMA collection are not necessarily in the central wall. They’re not necessarily getting that money shot themselves. They’ve had to slightly budge over, to make room for other artists, and other histories that have been overlooked. One of the best examples of that is probably in the Picasso room. You want to talk a little bit about that?
Allan Schwartzman: Absolutely. Well, let me just step back. Before you get to the Picasso room, there’s a room that’s all about photography and film. So we know that photography radicalized art, that once the camera was invented and you could create an image that looked more closely like reality than most paintings could, it freed painting to go in another direction.
And so the history of painting is interwoven with the history of photography. And MoMA, which has had great departments in all these mediums, didn’t fully acknowledge it because all these departments were separate. So now, the story gets retold. And it gets retold by integrating all of these mediums. We’re no longer talking about these separate material fiefdoms, but we’re talking about art and culture, which is kind of messy in how it evolves. It’s not a clean story. The beauty here is that they tell it articulately, while bringing in a lot more information.
But the biggest shock—or the first big disruption—as you’re walking through the galleries, is indeed when you get to the Picasso gallery. Straight ahead of you on the money wall is Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), which is indeed one of the critical turning points in the history of modern art. It’s the cornerstone of MoMA’s collection, one of the great cornerstones of it.
This room is filled with almost all Picasso and nothing else. And then you see to the left a painting by Faith Ringgold, an African American artist who emerged in the early 1960s.
Allan Schwartzman: And the Faith Ringgold is equally epic to Demoiselles. It is equally emotional. I mean, you see faces that are exploding with emotion. And the painting is called American People Series Number 20: Die (1967). And this is black and white people in a rage-filled scene.
At first it is so jarring to see the work of an artist of a completely different period—an artist of our time—inserted within this room of incredibly great Picasso paintings. And then you begin to realize that this is going to be a different telling of the history of Modern art. At first, it may even seem that even though it’s an amazing juxtaposition, that it’s out of sync with this history of MoMA in how it goes chronologically through the history of Paris and onto New York.
Charlotte Burns: That logical march of -isms.
Allan Schwartzman: Exactly. At the same time, you realize, “Ah, this is going to be a different telling of the story.”
And then, as you move through, you see more moments of insertion. The creative presence has a real interesting meter to it, in your experience of moving through the museum.
Charlotte Burns: And it could be gestural, that idea of taking a work that was made many decades later by a woman in America that deals with the other side of the coin, essentially, of looking at other cultures and taking from them, which is what Picasso was doing. It could be gestural.
And then, as you go through the collection, you start to understand that it’s very thoughtfully done. There’s lots of it. That’s the kind of big “wow” moment that people are going to focus on. But there are quieter moments, where other artists have been inserted. Oftentimes, it’s artists who were working at the same time but were overlooked, or artists who have a dialogue over centuries.
Allan Schwartzman: And part of that big wow is that when you see, for example, the introduction of the Faith Ringgold. And then you’d go on and you see this wonderful, I think it may be in the next gallery, room of works by Florine Stettheimer and artists working in a similar ilk. There are more women in that room than you would ever have seen in one of the first ten rooms at MoMA.
Right by these Florine Stettheimer sketches for the theater, and a beautiful decorative screen, is a fantastic collage by Frances Stark. And Frances is one of the most interesting contemporary artists working today. And it looks so at home there, it begins to give new information both to Frances’s work, and it reinfuses the work of history from a new lens.
But I’d like to say one other thing about the Faith Ringgold painting. So, the Demoiselles, I mean, there’s a million pages that have been written about this painting. But this is Picasso looking at woman as the “Other”. And he’s using the imagery of African art, which is another Other. And here, in the same room, you have an “Other”, a black woman artist depicting the world from her perspective. And so, this right away is creating a new frame with which to look at the Picasso. That’s quite powerful.
Charlotte Burns: There’s a tension and also the Ringgold holds its own. There’s not that many paintings in the history of art that could go up against something that’s been so canonized.
Allan Schwartzman: Exactly. And part of the beauty of that is that I think most people focused in contemporary art and who are looking at the work of younger African American artists, may not know Faith Ringgold’s work that well. Or they may know principally the quilted paintings and not know these early paintings from the 1960s, which get to the cultural core of what was going on—the Civil Rights movement, different social movements, the general disruption of culture in the United States.
I’d also say one other thing, which is that when you see the insertion of the Faith Ringgold, and you go on to see other insertions, you begin to realize that there are so many other things that could have gone into these galleries. And then you recognize that they’re looking at the collection as dynamic, and a field upon which things can continue to be rethought.
It no longer feels like here is the great MoMA collection, and maybe we’ll rehang a room every few years. You feel like the MoMA collection is dynamic. It’s contemporary. It’s an ongoing analysis, which can and will evolve. And it’s more like a curatorial examination than it is an installation of a permanent collection. That’s a hard thing to pull off, in a collection that is that strong, and has that many great things. This is their first step in what I imagine will be an evolving story of reexamining.
Charlotte Burns: The connection will rehang. I think, every six months, they’re going to go in and do this—
Allan Schwartzman: There you go.
Charlotte Burns: —As they play with the space.
The thing that’s quite interesting, too, is that this idea of having contemporary artists who are working today, practicing today, in amongst these sort of “gods”—because they are mostly men of art history—also points to the fact that MoMA is moving art a little bit from those hermetically sealed pages of the history books, into a more dynamic but very artist centric positioning.
What do artists think of art? How did Faith Ringgold see Les Demoiselles d’Avignon? How does Frances Stark look back at these artists? These are artists who know their art history. They come after. How do they view that?
They’ve done a beautiful installation of works by the artist Amy Sillman, “The Shape of Shape”. You want to tell us a little bit about that.
Allan Schwartzman: Absolutely. Before I go into that, I just want to make one other point, which is that you start chronologically, first of all, with that amazing room of Brancusis installed better than they’ve ever been installed before. Part of that is about spaciousness.
Charlotte Burns: The airiness. Yes, all that space.
Allan Schwartzman: It’s in a virtually square space, with a window behind, with lots of space between the works so they really get to breathe. And then you start going through these extraordinary high points in late 19th and early 20th century. Photography and film are incorporated from the beginning.
Charlotte Burns: And prints.
Allan Schwartzman: Yes. And books and so on. And after you leave Picasso, and you go through successive rooms that have German Expressionism and so on, pretty soon you get to this wonderful shift. There’s one room that shows utopian abstraction and directly beside it is a room that shows the Bauhaus. Even within the high points of this high modern collection, you go from art into life and you see them as being part of the same utopia.
And then directly after that you go into this room installed by Amy Sillman. There have been quite a number of artists over the last few decades who have curated shows and most of them have been artists rethinking parts of a permanent collection from their own perspective. In fact, MoMA may have even begun this. In the 1970s, they had an artist project program. I think one of the first ones was Laurie Anderson and then, later, they revived it and they had Scott Burton curate a show, which was as rigorous art-historically as it was so clearly the view of an artist. And what Scott did was to show the bases from Brancusi sculptures.
Up until then, the bases were sometimes viewed as part of the sculpture and sometimes were just viewed as ancillary. But Brancusi saw them all connected. I mean, that’s a critical issue in the history of modern art, of the base no longer being this neutral support. What Scott chose to do was to display the bases by themselves, without the sculptures on top of them, and it certainly changed the way you would, from that point forward, look at the sculpture of Brancusi.
So in the room directly after the one of the Bauhaus and also off to the side is this amazing cul-de-sac of the Monet Water Lilies (1914-26). You come to this room by Amy Sillman, which I think is called something like “The Formation of Form”.
Charlotte Burns: “Shape of Shape”.
Allan Schwartzman: Sorry, “The Shape of Shape”. And it is a salon-installed gathering of works from throughout the 20th and 21st century. It is not intended to be overly curated, but it is exquisitely selected. And what you get right there is the way an artist looks at art. And this is an artist who herself makes abstraction that often involves shape. And so she’s taking an element that’s critical to the history of abstract art, and indeed the history of figurative art, and she’s examining it as if you’re walking into an artist studio, but the artist is using artworks from the collection of The Museum of Modern Art to start to put together a kind of democratically organized storyboard that begins to show you all of these interrelationships.
There’s something so wonderfully joyous about it. It’s generous in terms of all of the art. It’s not making any kind of judgment. And right there, you have a contemporary artist bringing the artist’s presence in it. And so, this starts to accumulate with the occasional insertions of contemporary artists. And again, it brings you back to this idea that these are artists who make these things. These are not just trophies. If ever this was a moment in history where we need to be reminded of the central role of the artist in art history, it’s now, because the market is not seeing it this way. And so, it is a breath of fresh air.
Charlotte Burns: It is. One thing I’d like to say before we move into the other areas and the other floors, you mentioned German Expressionism. Now we see a lot of the artists in Germany who are making art at the turn of the century, getting a bit more of their due. And I was going around the collection looking at the works that they have by an artist called Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, who was so jealous in his lifetime of the way in which the Parisian artists were given all the attention that he pretended to be a French art critic.
He made up a pseudonym, he called himself Louis de Marseille. And he wrote exclusively about Kirchner. And he had gone back and he predated his works and he wrote about how Kirchner was actually a much bigger genius than Picasso and Matisse.
Let’s head down the stairs.
There’s a staircase back in MoMA, the blade stairs, which takes us down to the fourth floor.
Allan Schwartzman: There’s actually several staircases.
Charlotte Burns: Yeah.
Allan Schwartzman: So this gets into a little bit of a discussion about architecture and The Museum of Modern Art. So, as you know, MoMA has had many periods of rebuilding. In the 1970s, there was a rebuild by César Pelli, which sent this kind of shocking and chilling message through the art world. You entered the museum and while you’re in the lobby, straight ahead of you, you saw these grand escalators going upstairs as though you were in Bloomingdale’s.
And I understand the need for people movers. I understand that this is a place of such great importance and curiosity for visitors from all around the world that they have to move their traffic through. And that’s a very real problem. Placing the escalator with the same prominence that The Met has its grand staircase just sent out a very strange message. So then, decades later, they rebuild the museum again designed by Taniguchi.
Charlotte Burns: In the 1990s.
Allan Schwartzman: Yes. And if you look at the original brief, it had talked about breaking up the labyrinth of the canon of MoMA. It talked about side galleries, where you would have prints and drawings and ancillary materials and maybe some lesser-known artists. Maybe even some artists of other cultures. But in the end, that didn’t happen.
Instead, you ended up with another version of the maze. And that was fine because we love all of that art. But it also created this monolithic kind of building where once again, you depended upon the escalator for movement. This is very practical. It was more appropriately placed, but you didn’t have optionality. The MoMA I knew growing up had that great staircase with the Oskar Schlemmer painting hanging on it, of that staircase.
Charlotte Burns: Right.
Allan Schwartzman: And it was an amazing moment and it was a place where you could kind of get lost. Now, once again, you have choice. There’s intimacy to these spaces. They may have grown by 30% or whatever that is, but the rooms are much more spaciously installed. There are more spaces that are squarish that are used in an extraordinary way. The placement of the doorways, their scale, everything allows for flow.
So the architecture is so well done, you don’t think about the architecture. I don’t mean that in any disrespectful way to the architects. I think the architects knew exactly where they were working—
Charlotte Burns: It’s discreet.
Allan Schwartzman: —and what the needs are. They didn’t need the architecture to get in the way. They needed it to be this beautiful container in which art could be re-experienced in all different ways. So just to have the option of stepping onto a staircase here or stepping onto the staircase there and going to the next floor is extraordinary sense of intimacy that you would not expect in a museum that now has, what? Close to 180,000 square feet of exhibition space?
Charlotte Burns: It feels huge walking around and it does feel… It hasn’t lost that corporate sense, I don’t think. It’s still very slick. But I suddenly got lost. Like there are enough options for the traffic flow that me, who has no sense of geography, found it very easy to lose myself in that space.
Charlotte Burns: We had the privilege of being there when there were barely any other people. But there were moments when I really did not know where I was and found my way around, which I like, too. That circular flow of history. That one moment you’d be, you know, with the surrealists and then you’re back over here.
Allan Schwartzman: And it’s all okay. You don’t feel like you got the story wrong by not necessarily seeing it in chronology. I guess what I would also say is that MoMA created the first department of architecture. It has had many of the greatest architects of the 20th century build parts of it. But through the years, it was an assembly of all these different moments of building.
Charlotte Burns: MoMA’s been ravenously eating up other buildings since 1929.
Allan Schwartzman: Exactly. And it was kind of nice. It was kind of nice that you had these different structures and each one had a different feel. Now what you have is something where the spaces flow. You don’t know when you’re in the Taniguchi building or the new building, and I like that. I like that it creates a flow.
And let’s remember that this was designed on a battleground. The Museum of Modern Art is wrapped around what was the Folk Art Museum.
The Folk Art Museum, to many people, was a great architectural achievement.
The Folk Art Museum had real problems. But it was truly interesting, in so far as it was the scale of a townhouse. In so many ways, the architecture of New York, separate from the skyscrapers, is defined by the townhouse. A 20- or 25-foot wide building up to 100 feet in length. In most blocks of Manhattan are indeed these units. In fact, the buildings on 54th and 53rd Street, what now comprise MoMA, were mostly townhouses.
Allan Schwartzman: There was one remaining townhouse here. MoMA bought all the ones to the West and they’re part of what we’re now experiencing. And then there was this one little pocket that it was all wrapped around, which was the townhouse that then became the Folk Art Museum. It created an impractical situation in terms of a domestically-scaled building, which needed all of these points of egress and multiple exit points and wheelchair access so that it broke up all the floors— but they rethought the massing of a townhouse. They dealt with the whole facade as a single unit and that was a small but significant innovation. The museum, MoMA, once the Folk Art Museum left, took over the building. They couldn’t find a way to integrate them because they were all at different levels.
And so they decided to tear it down. And this is a huge point of controversy and probably challenging for Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who came in to do this design, to build something that is built upon the destruction of other architects. But in truth, it ends up being such a great experience that it somehow places that argument into history and now we’re moving forward with the experience of MoMA.
Charlotte Burns: Yeah. So, we’ve gone down the stairs. We’re on the fourth floor. What were your highlights on this floor?
Allan Schwartzman: Oh, there were so many highlights. I guess the thing that was most jarring to me, and maybe we can bring the word radical back into the discussion, is how Jasper Johns gets rethought. So if you look at MoMA and the history of its collection in the postwar period, we start with Abstract Expressionism, which is the great heroic American movement.
And there the canon of the greats: Pollock, de Kooning, Rothko, Newman, Kline and so on. They formed the pantheon of heroic American postwar painting. And then the MoMA story generally jumps to the deification of Jasper Johns. In all of Pop art, the artist that MoMA focused on the most was Jasper Johns. They’ve done several retrospectives. They own extensive holdings of some of the greatest works from throughout his life, and it’s an extraordinary grouping. But there were two paths to go in Pop art— I don’t even know if we still want to call Johns a Pop painter—but you could go the Johns route, or you could go the Warhol route. The Johns route reinforces every value that we place on the hand in painting.
Charlotte Burns: Yeah.
Allan Schwartzman: Even while he’s using forms that are iconic and received. And Warhol goes in a completely different direction, a far more radical direction.
I think of one as the ideal of what we think a great painter should be. And the other is the reality of the time, which is mechanical reproduction. Now, of course, we’ve learned that there is indeed connoisseurship to Warhol but, you go to the room where they have Jasper Johns’ Flag (1954-55), one of the great works of the postwar period, and the Target With [Four Faces]  equally as significant, you know, amongst the top 20 works, let’s say, of that period.
But we’re no longer in a shrine of Johns, just like the room that’s almost all Picasso is not purely a shrine to Picasso. And so you see Johns on a wall opposite Bontecou and Bontecou is on the prime wall. You see the interspersion of Europeans and Americans in a period that MoMA had previously said was a time where American art was great. On one side of a doorway, you have the Johns Flag. On the other side, you have Daniel Spoerri‘s messed up table of things from the studio and overflowing coffee pots and cigarette butts. You have art from Japan by at Atsuko Tanaka; you have Twombly in American and what he was making when he was in Italy. This is a world that’s a world.
Charlotte Burns: Yeah.
Allan Schwartzman: It’s no longer paired down to a sense of aesthetic perfection, but it’s sloppy in a coherent way, but in a way that life is. You get a sense that you’re in the world. You’re not just in our world.
You’ve got things from Japan, from Europe coming from all over, and then if you go back a little bit, Abstract Expressionism is no longer called Abstract Expressionism. There’s a room or several rooms of action painting and it’s no longer just the men. It’s also the women. You have almost equal presence there and that starts to tell another story.
Then there’s this beautiful little moment where you have an Arp relief and then beside it you have an early Ellsworth Kelly relief. I think that room is about artists, who were in Paris moving in and out of Paris. And you have a whole range of artists. But in that one juxtaposition you see a shift from midcentury to what will now be form into Minimalism.
Charlotte Burns: Right, yeah.
Allan Schwartzman: And then there’s this other great room, which may be the largest room on the floor. I’m not sure, it’s certainly one of the largest where which is divided by a freestanding wall in the middle. One side of the wall is the geometric perfection of Minimalism.
Allan Schwartzman: It’s focused on the square. You have it by Jo Baer, by—
Charlotte Burns: Flavin.
Allan Schwartzman: Flavin, Sol LeWitt, Martin. And then in that center freestanding wall, you have Judd. You have this glorious green, large-scale Judd stack. You go on the other side and you have the dissolution of this geometric perfection. On the wall opposite Judd, you have Beuys on the first wall.
Instead of having the perfect squares of the first room, you have Lawrence Weiner cutting a square out of the wall to reveal the plywood that lies underneath it. You have Marisa Merz and her extraordinary and weird kind of circle of barbed wire with ponytails hanging from it. You have Eva Hesse and the disintegration of materiality. You have Robert Morris and the felt pieces, which are kind of a collapse of the material solidity of Minimalism. It’s a beautiful juxtaposition and right there, that’s almost a microcosm of the story that I think they’re trying to tell.
Charlotte Burns: Right.
Allan Schwartzman: They’re not stopping on the high points as high points. They’re saying that this is a dialogue and an evolution and in the same generation you had people who were reducing composition and art to its essence and then you had artists who were rethinking it, and dismantling it to move in other directions.
Charlotte Burns: Forming form and unforming it.
Allan Schwartzman: Exactly.
Charlotte Burns: Sort of like the big C of church and then the congregation.
Allan Schwartzman: That’s another instance where pop, which was not so fully explored at MoMA at the time, has been played out to a much greater degree and so you have Warhol’s Marilyn (1967) on a gold field and Kusama chair right nearby it and then straight ahead of you have a Pistoletto mirror with a figure in it. It feels like you’re in the city.
Charlotte Burns: Yeah.
Allan Schwartzman: It feels like you’re in the middle of yet another period in which artists in all different points of the world are re-examining art.
Charlotte Burns: And also that Pistoletto mirror piece. This is kind of aside, but there’s, there are several moments of the museum where you have these male figures pointing the way you have the Pistoletto man. Then on another floor you have Beuys through a doorway. There are several entryways that you look through and there are these male figures as a walking man, as a sort of motif going through the building.
One thing we should say about bringing the women in and bringing in non-white artists or artists who weren’t so much part of that proverbial canon is that when we do our data studies, we look at these figures and I think the gesture that MoMA is making—it’s beyond a gesture—they’re rethinking all of this.
And I think it’d be interesting to see where that goes because when you look at the figures, they are representation of African American artists, I think was around 3% of their collection in the ten years that we looked at of their acquisitions had been of work by African American artists. 23% of their work had been of work by women. So, the display suggests more than is still yet in the permanent collection. It’s a great opener and a great directional positioning.
Allan Schwartzman: And that’s how it feels. It feels like this is the beginning. This is like the new beginning. It’s great at a moment of tremendous disruption around the world, unease, and within art, quite frankly, a great deal of confusion about contemporary art, about what is significant, what is meaningful. To have this moment where MoMA has addressed so many of the flaws that people have seen in MoMA over the last 30 plus years. It’s addressed the challenges of architecture that have had more failures than successes. Here we have success. It has opened the door to say this is not a sealed history: we can rethink it. And sometimes we can rethink it by inserting the contemporary into the historical. It says that art comes out of life and not just out of the studio. It’s not just this is extraordinarily valuable object on a wall.
Charlotte Burns: Right.
Allan Schwartzman: It’s something that comes out of a, both an artistic context and a larger cultural context. It opens the door to thinking about art from other cultures. Interestingly, in all of this opening up, there’s actually a greater sense of articulateness, to me at least, about art of the last 150 years, and that’s quite extraordinary to do when you’re opening doors. And I do think particularly when you look at material that we find on the more contemporary floor with work coming out of performance art and so much art coming out of Eastern Europe that indeed there are more places for women that have quietly been working their way into MoMa’s collection already. But it opens the door to others.
Charlotte Burns: Exactly.
I bumped into Glenn Lowry the other day and he was leaning on the balustrade looking over a floor and I asked him how everything was going and he said, “Yeah, I’m just looking at all the things we need to tweak.” I sort of laughed and he said, “I’m going to be doing that for decades.” And that seems to me to be that spirit actually of this MoMA of this idea of tweaking, but larger than tweaks—of repositioning, of rethinking, as being an ongoing thing. That authority of a hermetically sealed moment is not the reality of what the times we’re living, and MoMA has moved into that.
Allan Schwartzman: And that was a big leap. I mean in the later 1970s and 1980s MoMa was a museum in crisis. And the crisis was what does The Museum of Modern Art do in a postmodern era?
Charlotte Burns: Right.
Allan Schwartzman: They didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know how to be collecting art. They did a second Frank Stella retrospective. I think it was the first time in their history, or at least in that recent history, that they had done two retrospectives of a living artist. And even in Stella’s work, you see the crisis between a kind of natural end point for Modern art and the history of abstraction that it wrought. And then the artist trying to rethink how they function, what imagery is, what color is. It starts to break the rules and so MoMA didn’t really know how to deal with it. Now they’re dealing with it. And that’s kind of a beautiful thing.
So, The Museum of Modern Art no longer becomes sealed in a certain period of time that we call “Modern” art. It moves forward in a way that is as open as to how they’re looking to the past. And I think that’s where you see so much possibility.
Charlotte Burns: I agree.
Allan Schwartzman: One of the great achievements of the reopening of MoMA is how art from other cultures gets inserted into a mainstream that probably didn’t even know about it. And they’re starting to break down this notion of a mainstream.
One of the strongest and most committed efforts in that part within MoMA has been the Cisneros collection, the collection of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, who has been the great champion internationally of post-war Latin American arm. She has formed the greatest collection there is. She has been on the board of the Museum of Modern Art for a long time and her goal has always been to have this great history in Latin America no longer be isolated to Latin America, but to be integrated into our knowledge and our curatorial thinking.
And indeed, if you look at, let’s just say, geometric abstraction, right around World War II just before and then what follows, you have artists coming from Europe moving to the United States, moving to Latin America.
So you have artists on three different continents coming out of the same artistic route, but developing into three separate directions. The direction in Latin America has been, the one we’ve paid the least attention to, it’s probably the one that MoMA has benefited the greatest from the most articulate collection. The Cisneros collection has been gifted to The Museum of Modern Art. There’ve been many works from the collection that have entered the museum’s collection in the years prior to this recent donation. There were works that MoMA has collected because the Cisneros Foundation made sure that there was a curator who had an expertise in Latin American art.
So ordinarily there are so many great things from that collection that you could, that you want to see interwoven with the installation of the permanent collection which we saw. However, there is a separate exhibition of the Cisneros collection—and thank goodness—because I think when you’ve gone through the collection display, your mind is already prepared to start inserting other things that you may not be seeing there that belong.
Charlotte Burns: Right.
Allan Schwartzman: But the Cisneros collection is such an exquisite collection. It has so many great masterworks and this is one of the most beautifully installed collection exhibitions I’ve seen. There’s so much air and space to it. There is a sense of lightness and how that links to utopian thinking through abstraction that it’s quite wonderful that before so many of those works get integrated into the European, American, and even Asian histories into which that they naturally have a dialogue that we get to see all of this material on its own, in a series of very beautiful galleries.
Charlotte Burns: I agree. Those Gegos look fantastic.
I don’t think we have time for much more, which is a shame because there’s so much more to say. There’s a great Betye Saar temporary show. There’s the projects with the Studio Museum, which I think will be a kind of dynamic part of MoMA’s future. There’s the entire contemporary collection, which we didn’t talk about, which has some gorgeous moments like that Sosnowska with the Laura Owens opposite the Kerry James Marshall. There are lots of magical moments and we encourage everyone to go and visit.
Allan Schwartzman: Yes.
Charlotte Burns: Thank you very much.
Allan Schwartzman: Thank you Charlotte.