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Top 10 List: What’s Not to Like About Mega-MoMA (Part I)

And now, as promised in Friday’s post, here’s what irks me about the bigger, but not necessarily better, Museum of Modern Art. I’ll skip the things you’ve already heard from the critical chorus: It’s too corporate (it is). The admission fee is too high (ditto).

But let me preface this by saying that I think Glenn Lowry is an excellent, conscientious, diligent museum director, and (as my first gripe, below, indicates) he is admirably responsive to reasonable criticism (think Monet’s “Water Lilies”). He once told me that he regarded many of the critiques of mega-MoMA as more a Rorschach test about the critic than an accurate reflection of the museum.

So, with apologies to Glenn—and with the expectation that he will now psychoanalyze me—here’s my Letterman-style list of gripes (from least important to most important):

10) The Bathrooms: The sixth-floor bathroom was my first destination when I arrived at MoMA’s opening press preview. It was not a good introduction to Yoshio Taniguchi’s vaunted design skills: The corridor leading up to it was so narrow that you had to turn sideways to pass someone coming from the opposite direction; the entrance door to the ladies room did not close properly and had to be yanked open, because it got stuck in the doorframe; the sink spouts were so poorly designed that they routinely sent water cascading over the counter and down to the floor; the lighting was dingy. The worst gaffe: the coathook on the door of the wheelchair-accessible stall was up high, where a disabled person could not possibly reach. (This was also true of the wheelchair-accessible stalls on all the other floors.) I mentioned the hooks to Glenn. Next time I visited, each of those stalls bore a second, lower hook.

9) Slippery Floors: I’ve never asked others if they’ve had this problem, because I don’t like to admit my own clumsiness. But twice, on different days, my feet skidded out from under me on the wood floors. (This was a good bone-density test.) Now I wear flats or walk VERY CAREFULLY. This has not been a problem for me at any other museum, and I’ve been to a lot!

8) Siberia Gallery: You know which one I mean? It’s the one at the end of a very long corridor, past the photography galleries, at the far end of the museum. It opened with a show devoted to Taniguchi, and most recently housed the terrific Islamic art show, “Without Boundary: Seventeen Ways of Looking.” Whatever gets put there gets marginalized, because it’s so out of the loop.

7) The 54th-Street Prison Wall: This is understated elegance? What was Taniguchi thinking when he decked out MoMA’s northern facade in unsightly, instantly dirty-looking corrugated metal siding? And what are those forbidding prison gates, blocking the man-on-the-street from getting a view of the beloved sculpture garden? I was at the City Planning Commission deliberations where they said they wanted some “transparency” from the garden to the street. Instead, it’s “Keep Out.”

6) Separate Fiefdoms: MoMA promised us that there would be better integration of prints, drawings and photographs with related works in the main collection galleries. With a few exceptions (most notably, German Expressionists), this hasn’t happened.

Coming Tomorrow, Part II—My Top 5 List of What’s Not to Like About Mega-MoMA.
Can you stand the suspense?

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