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The Museum of Modern Art: A $450 Million Upgrade

February 12, 2020

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On November 1, 2019, I decided to visit MoMA on 53rd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues to see the final result of this stupendous project that opened for all to see on October 21st. Frankly, I was amazed at the number of people who showed up. After all, it was a Friday afternoon at 4:00 pm. People should be at work – or at school I thought. Or, was it because this was the day after Halloween? Obviously, I’m a bit out of it because MoMA was like Times Square on New Year’s Eve – but not quite. Everyone was very well behaved and incredibly focused and interested in the art.

EVERYTHING MOVES AT AN EFFICIENT PACE

I decided to go up to the fifth floor via the escalator and then go down to the fourth. There are information desks nearby on each floor that are staffed with people who really know the exhibit and the layout of the museum (not an easy task when one is talking about 170,000 sq. ft.) The floors are laid out in “rooms” that are numbered. For example, I wanted to know where I could find Meret Oppenheim’s 1936 surrealist fur-lined teacup – the museum’s first acquisition by a female artist – and was told exactly where it was.

The all-inclusive (10 ways to say “Happy to See You”) and a colorful ticket to the Museum of Modern Art

THE ORIGINAL MUSEUM OF MODERN ART OPENED IN 1939

Philip Johnson (known for his famous Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut) expanded the original structure 55 years ago. Now, because the former home of the American Folk Art Museum was demolished to make way for the new six-story-high David Geffen wing there is 30% more gallery space. In addition to this, the floor-to-ceiling windows allow ample natural light to flow through.

One has to take a bit of a walk to get to the “Education, Library and School Group” but it’s definitely worth it. When you see “Photography” by Goshka Macuga you will be overwhelmed. She describes it as, “An exhibition within an exhibition” and adds, “It’s a big gesture for MoMA to invite artists to make commissions that will remain for up to 10 years.”

GOING FORWARD: A NEW DIRECTION FOR MOMA

The museum has resolved to include more women artists and, like many institutions, has had to adapt to the recent and dramatic shifts in our culture. So on the fifth floor I quickly looked at paintings by Picasso, Dali, Cézanne, Schiele and Hopper. Then I spied one work of art that really spoke to me by an artist I didn’t recognize: Faith Ringgold (who is now a spry 89-years-old and still going strong).

Pablo Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” from 1907 now hangs in Gallery 503 – Photo courtesy of In New York magazine, January 2020

The fifth floor also has a long, outdoor balcony that overlooks the Sculpture Garden below (which was originally designed by curator, John McAndrew in a single night – a couple of weeks before the museum opened) and is still a great oasis in a busy environment.

“Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh in 1889 had such a huge crowd in front of it I could barely see it – one just had to be patient and wait

The collection galleries are spread out across three floors and hold thousands and thousands of artworks. You’ll find paintings, sculpture, video, drawings and more coexisting in MoMA. Going ahead there will be changes every six months as the art is rotated. 

THERE’S MORE TO MOMA THAN THE GALLERIES

The museum also has a new, expansive lobby – which has two galleries that can be visited for free – as well as a gift shop that’s below street level – a wall of windows allows passersby to take a look. It’s possibly the largest shop I’ve ever seen in a museum. Note: everything in MoMA is cutting edge, including the restrooms, whose faucets have built-in hand dryers. (Never heard of that before.)

Exterior view of the museum’s Blade Stair Atrium on West 53rd Street – Photo courtesy of In New York magazine, January 2020

ONE FINAL COMMENT FROM A CRITIC WHO SAYS

“Before this $450 million renovation I felt as if I walked a quarter of a mile into MoMA before I saw art. That’s no longer true. Now the museum is less of a tunnel connecting 53rd and 54th Streets – there is more of an open, airy space that plays host to the art itself.”

I stayed for an hour-and-a-half before I felt I had to take a break. Believe me, this is hard work. There is a bar room, café and restaurants available but I didn’t have time to sample any of the selections. Why not take a rest and treat yourself? It will be the perfect end to a perfect visit.

Shaun Nelson-Henrick


1 Response

Karen Armitage
Karen Armitage

February 20, 2020

Great succinct overview of the newly renovated MoMA. Have visited once on a trip to New York, look forward to visiting this museum again.

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