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Relaunching Museum of Modern Art, New York Style


By Antoine du Rocher

NEW YORK, 20 November 2004óAfter the most extensive expansion and renovation in its history, New York's Museum of Modern Art marks its 75th anniversary in its new home in midtown Manhattan, unveiling the reinstallation of its collection of modern and contemporary art in a building designed by Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi.

The new building, engages the public with a 12,400-square-foot (1,152 square metres) lobby that connects West 53rd and 54th Streets, and now provides two major entrances to the Museum. On 53rd Street, Taniguchiís new faÁade of fritted, gray, and clear glass, absolute black granite, and aluminum panels joins the meticulously restored facade of the 1939 Goodwin and Stone building, Philip Johnsonís 1964 addition, and Cesar Pelliís 1984 Museum Tower to link MoMAís past with its future in a street-level panorama of architectural history.

Leading up to the high-profile reopening today were almost two weeks of press viewings and private parties, where leading museum donors and benefactors, art dealers, collectors, culture barons and various and sundry rich and famous mingled and perused the collection in its new home in midtown Manhattan.

After a three-year renovation, the new Museum nearly doubles the capacity of the former building, and encompasses approximately 630,000 square feet (58,527 square metres) of new and renovated space on six floors. The Museumís total exhibition space has increased from 85,000 to 125,000 square feet (7,896 to 11,612 square metres). Among the notable features of the new design galleries clustered around a soaring 110-foot-tall (10.2 metres) atrium that diffuses natural light throughout the building, and monumental windows and curtain walls throughout the Museum that afford views of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden and the city beyond.

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Exterior view of the David and Peggy Rockefeller Building from West 54th Street
The Museum of Modern Art
Designed by Yoshio Taniguchi
Photo (C) 2004 Timothy Hursley
Photo courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art

Typically, New York's obsession with status and location (location, location) marked many aspects of the event. Generating at least as much buzz as keeping tabs on whose name made the lists for which parties was the curatorial cut and the real estate accorded living artists in the new galleries. Such curatorial decisions will surely influence the public's perception of the significance (and, surely, market value) of an artist, much as a choice corner office more than hints at the importance and power of some Manhattan office-tower denizen.

At least the curators have taken this opportunity to renovate their tastes: Turner Prize winner Chris Ofili, Cuba's Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Germany's Martin Kippenberger and Cindy Sherman made the A-list and garnered prime placements, while works of Britain's Damien Hirst and New York's Julian Schnabel rated upstairs seating (or even welcome absence). Not to be overlooked, the architect's own work will be the subject of a prominent exhibition associated with the opening: Yoshio Taniguchi: Nine Museums, presents the new MoMA in the context of eight other art museums that he has designed (all in Japan).

Likewise, personally funding the museum renovation (to the tune of over $500 million to date, out of the $858 million eventually to be raised) has secured for several of the trustees the naming rights on some of the museum's most significant spaces: David and Peggy Rockefeller for the new gallery building; Ronald S. and Jo Carole Lauder for the renovation of the Goodwin and Stone building; and Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron for the atrium within the gallery building. Supporters of the Education and Research Building (slated for a 2006 opening) are also, deservedly, memorialized: the building itself bears the names of Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman, and is home to the Edward John Noble Education Center and the 110-seat Celeste Bartos Theatre. Lesser contributions (individual gifts of more than $5 million, or corporate or foundation donations of more than $1 million) are acknowledged on a glass wall in the museum lobby, and galleries throughout the Museum will be named for supporters of the campaign.

The flip-side of all this personal and corporate largesse has been the debate and hand-wringing, in and out of American culture circles, over the decision to set the admission price at $20. (Opening day, admission is free). While some may claim that cash-strapped New Yorkers may find this cost a hardship, consider that a ticket to the average Hollywood mediocrity is $10 or more in New York. A visit to one of the world's finest art collections, at only twice that price, should be seen as a bargain.

Antoine du Rocher is a French cultural journalist and writer based in New York. He is also a member of the editorial board of

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