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More Space for Temkin’s Rehang: NY City Council Approves the MoMA/Hines Tower

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Chief curator Ann Temkin, flanked by Peter Reed, MoMA’s senior deputy director for curatorial affairs, left, and director Glenn Lowry, at the museum’s recent press breakfast

The expected has now happened: The NY City Council yesterday afternoon voted overwhelmingly (only three dissenters) to approve the Jean Nouvel-designed MoMA Monster, now reduced in height to a “mere” 1,050 feet. If and when this tower actually gets built (after economic conditions improve, according to Hines, the developer), the new space will expand the displays of MoMA’s permanent collection.

We can only hope that somewhere within the 40,000 square feet of additional gallery space they will find a permanent home for important, rarely seen monumental works in the collection, including those by Richard Serra and Martin Puryear, which were specifically mentioned by director Glenn Lowry in his testimony to a City Council subcommittee. We also need to see more of James Rosenquist‘s “F-111,” Ellsworth Kelly‘s “Colors for a Large Wall” and Claude Monet‘s “Water Lilies” triptych.

The Monet mural, now temporarily back on display, had been accorded its own permanent space for peaceful contemplation in the more homey MoMA of fond memory. Finding a place to show off its megaworks-in-storage had been one of the selling points for the recent Taniguchi-designed addition. Having failed to realize that supposed goal, MoMA’s expansionists have trotted it out yet again. Maybe this time they really mean it.

Speaking of installation ideas for the permanent collection, Ted Loos wrote an excellent piece for last Sunday’s NY Times about Ann Temkin‘s provocative plan for continually rehanging MoMA’s trove of modern and contemporary masterpieces.

But wait! There’s more to the story: Late last month, when MoMA’s chief curator of painting and sculpture took a group of us on a tour of her work-in-constant-progress (after a recent press breakfast, where Lowry’s discussion of the new permanent-collection philosophy was captured in this CultureGrrl Video), Ann informed us that about a quarter of the painting-and-sculpture galleries (which have now become more hospitable to related works in other media) will be rehung every 18 months or so. A full rotation of the galleries, she said, would take about five years. (Actually, an 18-month schedule would take six years to cycle through the entire space, but these are all approximations.)

Here’s the shocker: She said that only about 10 works—TEN WORKS!—would be considered inviolable: so important and iconic that they would always remain on view.

Okay, I’ll bite: I asked Ann to intone the names of the Sacred 10. Prudently declining to divulge the entire list, she did offer a few obvious examples—van Gogh‘s “Starry Night,” Picasso‘s “Girl Before a Mirror,” Dalí‘s “Persistence of Memory.” Those of us who know and love the collection could probably come up with a lot more than seven additional works that we need to see, whenever we want.

For that reason, I’m ambivalent about Ann’s plan. On the one hand, if any museum’s collection is rich enough to support a constant reshuffling of the deck, it’s MoMA’s. It will be exciting to be constantly challenged—exposed to different works in creatively rethought relationships. Ann was justifiably proud of her “little experiment,” juxtaposing German Expressionist portraits with related photographs.

But when I was a young D train-riding museum brat from da Bronx, I was comforted and edified by my repeated contact, over many years, with paintings that I loved and knew would always be there for me (the Monet triptych, among them). Art-savvy tourists are also likely be distraught if works they expect to see on their rare visits to New York are nowhere to be found.

I was therefore pleased to learn from Loos (notwithstanding Temkin’s Rule of Ten) that “Room 2 on Floor 5, with Cubist works by Picasso and Braque, won’t be morphing radically.” I’m not sure why they ditched the original plan for the Taniguchi expansion, which had called for suites of fixed galleries, surrounded by related changing galleries. That had sounded like a good idea to me.

Why not the best of both worlds?

an ArtsJournal blog