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Glenn Lowry on MoMA’s Next Expansion: “Substantial Changes in the Way We Present the Collection”


Director Glenn Lowry, speaking at Museum of Modern Art’s press briefing last Monday
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

I neglected you last week, artlings, because I was away on a workation. (If you followed my Twitter feed on Sept. 24 and 26, you saw a couple of photo clues about where I wandered.)

Before I left, though, I did manage to attend the Museum of Modern Art’s Monday press briefing on its upcoming exhibitions. During the Q&A after the formal presentation, we elicited an update from MoMA’s director, Glenn Lowry, on the museum’s plans to expand to new galleries at the base of a Jean Nouvel-designed tower


Site of the future Jean Nouvel-designed tower adjoining MoMA
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

…and into the space occupied by the American Folk Art Museum, which was purchased by MoMA in 2011 and will be reimagined (or perhaps demolished) by architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro:

West-facing wall of American Folk Art Museum, adjoining the lot on which Nouvel tower will rise

West-facing wall of American Folk Art Museum, adjoining the lot on which the Nouvel tower will rise 
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Here’s what Lowry told us on Monday, in response to my question about the status of plans for the Tod Williams Billie Tsien-designed former American Folk Art Museum facility:

We’re still modeling lots of different options. It’s like watchmaking: It’s very precise to calibrate the decisions that need to be made. We’re looking at options that include retaining the building as it is, significant changes to the building, as well as demolishing it [emphasis added]. [MoMA’s earlier announcement that it would tear down the building elicited strong protests from architecture critics and others. My middle-ground solution is at the end of this previous post.]

I hope we’ll have a clear path by the end of this year, because each of those decisions leads to a different set of solutions. The current track is to look at all three directions vigorously, thoroughly, so that when we do decide which way we’re going, we can feel very comfortable that we made the best possible decision.

And here’s what Lowry told us about the status of the long delayed Jean Nouvel tower, being developed by the Hines development company:

Their goal, as we understand it, is to be in the ground in the first quarter of 2014—call it March or April. We may know more than you, but we don’t know a lot more than you on that.

More revealingly, Lowry responded with much more than Art in America editor-in-chief Lindsay Pollock had asked for, when she queried him about the amount of gallery space to be gained in the expansion:

We have about 125,000 square feet of gallery space today. If you ask Ann Temkin [MoMA’s chief curator of painting and sculpture], “In an ideal world, what would you need just to do justice to recent acquisitions in painting and sculpture alone?” she’d probably say, “Maybe another 200,000 square feet.”

We know we’re not going to get that and we don’t want to end up so large that we become incomprehensible to our audience. The space, if you were to maximize every square inch of the “45” site [AFAM’s former site] and the “53” site [the Hines/Nouvel tower]…probably affords something like 40,000 square feet of net exhibition space [that is, increasing the current 125,000 square feet by about one-third]….

While we will never be able to show our collection in the depth that we would like, by virtue of its scale, we need to have enough space to show it thoughtfully and intelligently, as our responsibilities extend dramatically with each decade’s creating its additional pressure on the space that compels us to contract and compress the past in order to make room for the present.

It’s actually a very complicated—in a way philosophical—set of issues that have to govern how the architecture is going to be realized. In fact, we’re contemplating very substantial changes in the way we present our collection [emphasis added]. We’re modeling that to see if we think differently about the collection…to gain a better distribution of the collection over the space that will be available for us.

After the press briefing, I approached Glenn for more details on how the presentation of the collection might be rethought. He stated that while the collection would remain in roughly chronological order, there would be more mixing of different media (paintings, sculpture, photographs, other works on paper, etc.) in the galleries.

When I pointed out that this was exactly what had been discussed in the build-up to the most recent expansion, designed by Yoshio Taniguchi, Lowry gave an example, from the current installation of the permanent collection, as a possible prototype for what may happen in the Mega-Mega-MoMA—the insertion between of galleries devoted to Abstract Expressionism and to Pop art of a monographic gallery displaying a large group of photographs by Walker Evans.

The wall text for the Evans gallery asserts that “the installation underscores the continuation of prewar avant garde practices in America into the postwar period. Evans’ explorations of signs and symbols, commercial culture and the vernacular still reverberate today.”

Maybe so. But there seems to be more of a jarring disconnect than a resonance between Evans’ 1930s output…

"Main Street block, Selma Alabama," 1936 Photo (of Evans' photo) by Lee Rosenbaum

“Main Street block, Selma Alabama,” 1936
Photo (of Evans’ photo) by Lee Rosenbaum

…and the later works that MoMA’s sightlines allow you to glimpse through the wall openings at either end of the Evans installation. They are…

…this highlight from the Abstract Expressionism gallery:


Jackson Pollock, “One: Number 31, 1950”
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

…and this from the Pop gallery:

Andy Warhol, “Gold Marilyn Monroe,” 1962
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Let the curatorial rethinking continue…

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