“So, what did you do all afternoon?” my friend Allie asked as we settled into our seats to see Junebug.
“I went to MoMA,” I told her.
“And did you enjoy yourself?”
I hesitated, still reluctant to commit myself definitively to the unwelcome truth.
“No,” I finally said. “I didn’t enjoy myself at all. I don’t think the new MoMA is a very good place to look at art. It’s like a mall, not a museum. A great big supermall.”
She nodded. “That’s just how I feel,” she replied.
It wasn’t until last Friday afternoon that I was willing at last to admit what I’d suspected all along: I simply don’t like the much-ballyhooed new Museum of Modern Art, which I saw for the first time
just before it opened to the public last November. My first impressions had been sharply mixed, but I did my best to side with the strengths of the new building, knowing that such impressions are almost always deceptive. I went back a month later, and since then I’d stayed away, wanting to give the curators a chance to find their footing before I rendered anything like a final judgment.
Sure enough, some things have changed since the new MoMA opened its doors, and one of them is genuinely encouraging. The museum’s great Monet “Water Lilies” triptych, which had been hanging in a multi-story atrium across from Barnett Newman’s monstrous Broken Obelisk, has now been moved to a small side gallery which it shares with two other late Monets and a pair of large paintings by Bonnard and Vuillard, a modest but nonetheless welcome gesture to civility.
Otherwise, the MoMA I saw on Friday is basically the same MoMA I saw last November, with the same ineradicable problems that were immediately apparent to me (and many others) on first viewing. The exaggerated scale of the building swamps the art it contains, and the austere d