The expanded Museum of Modern Art, finally unveiled, is a stunning achievement. Forget about trying to figure out the new space in relation to your memories of the old. The effect is that of an entire new museum and a thing of beauty it is. The $425 million it took to bring MoMA into the 21st century has yielded impressive results.
Start with the entrance. It is a huge, attractive space that runs from 11 West 53rd Street right through to another 54tth Street entrance. There is a wide-open feeling, and steps lead up to the sculpture garden, which has been enlarged. One of the nice things about the new design is that one can see the garden from various parts of the museum, and this contributes to the overall feeling of openness, enhanced by the considerable use of glass.
The gallery areas are splendid and ideal for displaying art in ways that make them highlighted and accessible. One can wander randomly or head for the art works that are of maximum interest for the particular viewer, ranging from the old standbys like works by Picasso, or minimalist modern art toward which MoMA seems to be gravitating to some degree.
My favorite floor is the fifth, where one can encounter the glories of Matisse, Van Gough, Cézanne, and Picasso, for example, reflections of my personal taste. But there are other broad choices elsewhere, including impressive photo exhibits and a new visual art room. The museum dining facilities have been spruced up and modernized.
One needs to visit first just to appreciate the building itself, as brilliantly designed by Yoshio Taniguchi. I had gone to an earlier press showing before the construction was finished, and while one could get an idea of the spaciousness promised, actually seeing what has been accomplished is beyond what I expected.
One needs to go back again and again to get the full impact of the building and gradually see how the art has been positioned and to evaluate the extent to which it has been installed to take maximum advantage of the space. MoMA emerges as a museum built for use not mere flamboyance.
Of course, the well-publicized and criticized $20 admission tab can be a limitation. The most economical way is to become a member of MoMA, but there are so many visitors who will be coming while on a trip to new York from other parts of the country or from abroad and will have to spring for the new high admission. It will be particularly hard on families. Is a tab this high really necessary?
Note that the bookstore entrance has moved closer to Sixth Avenue. It is now all on one floor, and shopping in it is very easy. Also, the movie theaters downstairs are starting to operate again with the kind of special programs that have become part of MoMA’s cinema heritage.