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

If you missed the first installment of this two-part series, please click here.

5) The Sleeping Giants—Serra, Kelly, Rosenquist: I had always thought (mistakenly, it seems) that one of the reasons for MoMA’s vast new contemporary space was to provide room for semi-permanent display of the museum’s three enormous, iconic works: James Rosenquist‘s “F-111,” Ellsworth Kelly‘s “Colors for a Large Wall” and Richard Serra‘s “Intersection II.” But the Serra won’t be shown until the opening of his retrospective in Summer 2007 and the Kelly and Rosenquist emerged on the sixth floor for MoMA’s opening but then disappeared into storage.

4) Who Turned Off the Light? Abundance of natural light throughout the museum was initially touted as a crucial feature of the expansion. But that goal was largely abandoned. Yoshio Taniguchi‘s original design, displayed in a model at the museum soon after he was selected as architect, featured stepped skylights, bringing sunlight into several floors of permanent collection galleries, as well as a large skylight illuminating the top floor. The curators decided that natural light would be too difficult and expensive to regulate. So we’re left with some token skylights on the sixth floor and small, tinted windows in most of the galleries downstairs. The design galleries, however, were given a big picture window—the better to provide enticing views of its snazzy cars to passing pedestrians.

3) The Attack of the Atrium: This soaring lobby was supposed to give a sense of exhilaration and release. But one feels more oppressed than impressed by its impersonal, clunky monumentality. I’m not the first to complain about the huge, eye-numbing expanses of blank white walls. This cavernous barrenness was creepily captured on Richard McGuire‘s “Modern Art” cover for the Oct. 17, 2005 issue of The New Yorker.

2) The Secret Garden: MoMA’s Philip Johnson-designed sculpture garden has always been one of New York’s most treasured retreats. MoMA emphasized that the expansion would restore the garden to its past glory. So why did they obscure the best views of it, by installing fritted glass (which is not transparent, but is scored with opaque white lines) for the windows along its long axis? The garden view from inside the museum is also perversely blocked by the canopy overhanging the outdoor dining space of The Modern, MoMA’s swanky new restaurant. Where the elite eat, this $82-$155 prix-fixe haven (merely $42-$52 for lunch) gets the best garden views.


1) Assorted Cheeses With Your Van Gogh? In an astounding display of misplaced priorities, MoMA has stationed Terrace 5, a purveyor of miniscule “mouthwatering desserts, artisanal chocolates, and a selection of savory bites, cocktails and wine,” directly opposite the entrance to the gallery containing MoMA’s signature Cézannes and van Goghs. Disrupting contemplative visual pleasures with an assault on the other senses (food odors, tableware clatter, diners’ chatter), it’s ideally situated both to attract the most business and to affront serious visitors who come for the art, not the food.

I could probably find 10 more things to complain about (the misconceived layout of the coatroom, the glitchy circulation system, the continuously sliding glass doors), but enough is enough.

What I need to emphasize, though, is that MoMA still excels at the things that matter most: its superlative collection, its must-see shows, and the brilliance of its chief curator of painting and sculpture, John Elderfield, who makes me see artists whom I thought I knew in a revealing new light.

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