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Diller Thriller: MoMA’s Mega-Makover, An Irreverent Photo Essay

After my involuntary hiatus, I re-joined the scribe tribe on Thursday to learn more about what Robin Pogrebin had already announced to us in the NY Times earlier that morning—the completion of Phase One of the Museum of Modern Art’s $450-million capital project (the renovation and reconfiguration of the eastern portion of its sprawling physical plant) and the plans for the rest of the project, which involve renovation of the rest of the existing facility and expansion into the lower floors of the in-construction Jean Nouvel-designed skyscraper to MoMA’s west.

Having been briefed by another journalist about the current status of the project, we finally got to learn about this work-in-progress from the principals themselves:

Architect Elizabeth Diller of Diller Scofidio + Renfro at MoMA’s press breakfast

Liz Diller is her architectural firm’s chief spokesperson, but her partner in business and life, Richard Scofidio, was also in attendance (seen here with MoMA’s associate director, Kathy Halbreich):

Come join me now to see what they’ve accomplished so far:

Phase One’s 15,000 square feet of new galleries have been carved out of existing space on the third floor, where Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive will open on June 12 (to Oct. 1). Featuring objects from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (jointly acquired by MoMA and Columbia University), the show was organized by Barry Bergdoll, MoMA’s indispensable curator of architecture and design and professor of art history and archaeology at Columbia.

During a quick perusal of the then incompletely installed show, I experienced the layout as disjointed and choppy. That said, configurations can be changed with each exhibition:

Making a return appearance from the 2014 MoMA/Bergdoll/Wright exhibition is this striking model of a tower (which you can see on the left of the above photo). Originally an apartment-and-office building, it is now a hotel (where Bergdoll stayed):

H.C. Price Company Tower, Bartlesville, OK, model: c. 1952

To illustrate the choppiness of the layout, here are more galleries. They’re located on the other side of the thick black wall seen in my first image of the installation:

Unlike the final phase of the capital project—the expansion into the Nouvel tower—the completed phase had less to do with galleries than with auxiliary activities, amenities and eating opportunities. When the entire project is done, MoMA’s gallery space will increase by one-third, for a total of 175,000 square feet.

The austere black seating in MoMA’s new lounge area on the ground level, near the film entrance, isn’t as uncomfortable as it looks:

The striking black marble of the bar at the end of that lounge…

…is echoed in the coffee bar upstairs:

The museum identifies this cladding as “Grand Antique marble, sourced from the Ariège region in France, [which]…recalls the marble surround of the historic stair in the original lobby.” The black palette used here and elsewhere struck me as nod to Nouvel’s dark aesthetic. Because of its 1,050-foot height, his tower will dominate MoMA’s block.

Here’s a side view of the in-progress skyscraper, as seen on W. 54th Street:

A long, narrow ledge facing MoMA’s sculpture garden, fitted out with smartphone/laptop charging stations (below left), became a magnet for texters and Instagramers as soon as the renovated and repurposed spaces opened to museum members on Thursday, right after the press preview.

Do museums really need to encourage these digital distractions?

The seating on the third floor is a mélange of the restrained and the riotous. The guard stationed at the far end didn’t yet know whether visitors perched on the narrow black benches beneath Lawrence Weiner‘s pronouncements would be allowed to rest their feet on the multi-fabric button-stools by Mitab, the Swedish design firm.

Whether or not they’re intended to be used as footrests, it’s bound to happen:

The museum’s historic Bauhaus staircase has been extended down to ground level…

…and enlivened at the top by a (mostly black) Calder mobile—“Lobster Trap and Fish Tail,” 1939:

Amenities include a renovated second-floor cafe…

…which is adjacent to a snazzy new bookstore:

This is a modest substitute for the voluminous main museum shop, off the lobby entrance.

Both the primary entrance on 53rd Street…

…and the generously stocked bookstore just inside it (which you can glimpse at the right of the above image) are now closed for construction:

Visitors wishing to enter on 53rd Street are being rerouted to MoMA’s original entrance, to the east:

With the representation of MoMA’s sweeping collection having already been restricted by curatorial choice, it is now becoming even more curtailed by construction disruption.

Here’s the entrance to the second-floor contemporary art galleries. Closed in April, they’re not scheduled to reopen before Winter 2018:

The good news is that MoMA expects to remain open throughout the construction, except perhaps for the last two months before the project’s completion, some time in 2019 (date not yet determined). In other good news, the museum has raised the funds it needs for construction by tapping the resources of its own board, without launching a public capital campaign. It is now working to beef up its endowment.

I’ll have more to say on MoMA’s much revised expansion into the Nouvel tower and how those new spaces will be used, in a future post.

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