New York Architecture Images- Midtown

Museum of Modern Art  MoMA Top 25 NY Buildings


Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone , additions and alterations: Philip Johnson Associates (architect) and James Fanning (landscape architect) [1954, 1964], further additions and alterations: Cesar Pelli & Associates (design architects) and Edward Durell Stone Associates (associate architects) [1985]


11 West 53rd Street, bet. Fifth and Sixth Aves.




International Style II  


steel, glass







Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues)
New York NY 10019

Edward Durell Stone and Philip Goodwin 1939

MoMA's contribution to modern architecture in America began before it moved to its present building. In 1932 Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson organized a major show of contemporary European and American architecture, under the title 'Modern Architecture: International Exhibition'. The show, which toured nationally, brought European architectural developments to a wide audience in America. In the title of the tour and its accompanying book, Hitchcock and Johnson coined the phrase 'The International Style':

'...a style expressing several design principles: a concern with volume as opposed to mass and solidity. regularity as opposed to axial symmetry, and the proscription of "arbitrary applied decoration."'

'Hitchcock and Johnson, however, embraced the movement represented by Le Corbusier and Mies more for its novelty as a style than for its potential as social theory. For these museum curators, who were both well-born and thoroughly insulated from the harsher social realities with which the radical Europeans were grappling, Modernism meant something almost entirely aesthetic. Indeed, Johnson was to insist for the rest of his architectural career on the futility of addressing social issues through architecture. In the introduction to their book, Alfred Barr [director of MoMA] declared that "It should be made clear that the aesthetic qualities of the Style are the principal concerns of the authors," noting that they had made "little attempt to present here the technical or sociological aspects of the style except in so far as they are related to problems of design."'

Carter Wiseman, Shaping a Nation, 1998

MoMA followed this exhibition by building for itself the first 'International Style' building in America, in 1939.

Since then, Philip Johnson - who became the museum's first director of MoMA's department of architecture, but left in 1934 - created a new wing in 1953; in 1984 Cesar Pelli created a controversial 53-story residential tower on top of the museum, to raise money needed for the museum's growth; and a further expansion by Yoshio Taniguchi is currently in progress (2001).


How to visit

The museum is on the North side of 53rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. For information on opening times and tours - and exhibitions - call +1 212 708 9480 or visit

The museum is currently undergoing building works, as part of a major expansion and renovation by Yoshio Taniguchi.

The neighborhood's other star attraction: the local branch of the New York Public Library, right across the street from the MoMA entrance, keeps on display the original Winnie the Pooh and his friends (Christopher Robin's original toys, well pre-Disney).

This institution was founded with the support of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller and other members of New York's wealthy elite who had embraced modern art in the 1920s and 1930s. Its primary goal was to popularize modern art in the United States by making this heretofore European phenomenon accessable to the general public.

In 1929, the Museum opened in an existing building on 57th Street. In 1935, the Rockefeller House and its land were donated to the Museum. This became the core of the new museum's site. Stone and Goodwin's design for the initial building is an early tribute to modern architecture which had been gaining currency in Europe for over 15 years. Its flat, unornamented facade is clad with a veneer of marble, opaque glass and transparent glass. A simple pierced concrete awning caps the top floor. In keeping with the principles of le Courbusier (the formost architect of this new style), the structure is topped with a roof garden. A number of additions attest to the success and popularity of modern art. Philip Johnson added a west wing in 1951 (now the site of the MoMA Tower), as well as an east wing and the widely admired sculpture garden in 1964.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is a preeminent art museum located in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, USA, on 53rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. It has been singularly important in developing and collecting modernist art, and is often identified as the most influential museum of modern art in the world.[1] The museum's collection offers an unparalleled overview of modern and contemporary art, [2] including works of architecture and design, drawings, painting, sculpture, photography, prints, illustrated books, film, and electronic media.

MoMA's library and archives hold over 300,000 books, artist books, and periodicals, as well as individual files on more than 70,000 artists. The archives contain primary source material related to the history of modern and contemporary art.

The idea for the Museum of Modern Art was developed in 1928 primarily by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller[citation needed] (wife of John D. Rockefeller Jr.) and two of her friends, Lillie P. Bliss and Mrs Cornelius J. Sullivan. They became known variously as "the Ladies", "the daring ladies" and "the adamantine ladies". They rented modest quarters for the new museum and it opened to the public on November 7, 1929, nine days after the Wall Street Crash. Abby had invited A. Conger Goodyear, the former president of the board of trustees of the Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, to become president of the new museum. Abby became treasurer. At the time, it was America's premier American museum devoted exclusively to modern art, and the first of its kind in Manhattan to exhibit European modernism.

Goodyear enlisted Paul J. Sachs and Frank Crowninshield to join him as founding trustees. Sachs, the associate director and curator of prints and drawings at the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, was referred to in those days as a collector of curators. Goodyear asked him to recommend a director and Sachs suggested Alfred H. Barr Jr., a promising young protege. Under Barr's guidance, the museum's holdings quickly expanded from an initial gift of eight prints and one drawing. Its first successful loan exhibition was in November 1929, displaying paintings by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, and Seurat.

First housed in six rooms of galleries and offices on the twelfth floor of Manhattan's Heckscher Building, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, the museum moved into three more temporary locations within the next ten years. Abby's husband was adamantly opposed to the museum (as well as to modern art itself) and refused to release funds for the venture, which had to be obtained from other sources and resulted in the frequent shifts of location. Nevertheless, he eventually donated the land for the current site of the Museum, plus other gifts over time, and thus became in effect one of its greatest benefactors.

During that time it initiated many more exhibitions of noted artists, such as the lone Vincent van Gogh exhibition on November 4, 1935. Containing an unprecedented sixty-six oils and fifty drawings from the Netherlands, and poignant excerpts from the artist's letters, it was a major public success and became "a precursor to the hold van Gogh has to this day on the contemporary imagination".

The museum also gained international prominence with the hugely successful and now famous Picasso retrospective of 1939-40, held in conjunction with the Art Institute of Chicago. In its range of presented works, it represented a significant reinterpretation of Picasso for future art scholars and historians. This was wholly masterminded by Barr, a Picasso enthusiast, and lionized the greatest artist of the time, setting the model for all the museum's retrospectives that were to follow.

When Abby Rockefeller's son Nelson was selected by the board of trustees to become its flamboyant president in 1939, at the age of thirty, he became the prime instigator and funder of its publicity, acquisitions and subsequent expansion into new headquarters on 53rd Street. His brother, David Rockefeller, also joined the Museum's board of trustees, in 1948, and took over the presidency when Nelson took up position as Governor of New York in 1958.

David subsequently employed the noted architect Philip Johnson to redesign the Museum garden and name it in honor of his mother, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden. He and the Rockefeller family in general have retained a close association with the Museum throughout its history, with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund funding the institution since 1947. Both David Rockefeller, Jr. and Sharon Percy Rockefeller (wife of Senator Jay Rockefeller) currently sit on the board of trustees.

In 1937, MoMA had shifted to offices and basement galleries in the Time & Life Building in Rockefeller Center. Its permanent and current home, now renovated, designed in the International Style by the modernist architects Philip C. Johnson and Edward Durell Stone, opened to the public on May 10, 1939, attended by an illustrious company of 6,000 people, and with an opening address via radio from the White House by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.[8]

Considered by many to have the best collection of modern Western masterpieces in the world, MoMA's holdings include more than 150,000 individual pieces in addition to approximately 22,000 films and 4 million film stills. The collection houses such important and familiar works as the following:

It also holds works by a wide range of influential American artists including Cindy Sherman, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jasper Johns, Edward Hopper, Chuck Close, Georgia O'Keefe, and Ralph Bakshi.

MoMA developed a world-renowned art photography collection, first under Edward Steichen and then John Szarkowski, as well as an important film collection under the Museum of Modern Art Department of Film and Video. The film collection owns prints of many familiar feature-length movies, including Citizen Kane and Vertigo, but the department's holdings also contains many less-traditional pieces, including Andy Warhol's eight-hour Empire and Chris Cunningham's music video for Björk's All Is Full of Love. MoMA also has an important design collection, which includes works from such legendary designers as Paul László, the Eameses, Isamu Noguchi, and George Nelson. The design collection also contains many industrial and manufactured pieces, ranging from a self-aligning ball bearing to an entire Bell 47D1 helicopter.


Inside the MoMA building.MoMA's midtown location underwent extensive renovations in the 2000s, closing on May 21, 2002 and reopening to the public in a building redesigned by the Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi, on November 20, 2004. From June 29, 2002 until September 27, 2004, a portion of its collection was on display in what was dubbed MoMA QNS, a former Swingline staple factory in the Long Island City section of Queens.

The renovation project nearly doubled the space for MoMA's exhibitions and programs and features 630,000 square feet of new and redesigned space. The Peggy and David Rockefeller Building on the western portion of the site houses the main exhibition galleries, and The Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building on the eastern portion provides over five times more space for classrooms, auditoriums, teacher training workshops, and the Museum's expanded Library and Archives. These two buildings frame the enlarged Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, home to two works by Richard Serra.

MoMA's reopening brought controversy as its admission cost increased from US$12 to US$20, making it one of the most expensive museums in the city; however it has free entry on Fridays after 4pm, thanks to sponsorship from Target Stores. The architecture of the renovation is controversial. At its opening, some critics thought that Taniguchi's design was a fine example of contemporary architecture, while many others were extremely displeased with certain aspects of the design, such as the flow of the space.[9][10][11]

MoMA has seen its average number of visitors rise to 2.5 million from about 1.5 million a year before its new granite and glass renovation. The museum's director, Glenn D. Lowry, expects average visitor numbers eventually to settle in at around 2.1 million.[12]

Further reading
Fitzgerald, Michael C. Making Modernism: Picasso and the Creation of the Market for Twentieth-Century Art. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995.
Harr, John Ensor and Peter J. Johnson. The Rockefeller Century: Three Generations of America's Greatest Family. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988.
Kert, Bernice. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller: The Woman in the Family. New York: Random House, 1993.
Lynes, Russell, Good Old Modern: An Intimate Portrait of the Museum of Modern Art, New York: Athenaeum, 1973.
Reich, Cary. The Life of Nelson A. Rockefeller: Worlds to Conquer 1908-1958. New York: Doubleday, 1996.
Rockefeller, David. Memoirs. New York: Random House, 2002.
Schulze, Franz. Philip Johnson: Life and Work. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1996.

^ Kleiner, Fred S.; Christin J. Mamiya (2005). "The Development of Modernist Art : The Early 20th Century", Gardner's Art Through The Ages : The Western Perspective. Thomson Wadsworth, 796. ISBN 0495004782. “The Museum of Modern Art in New York City is consistently identified as the institution most responsible for developing modernist art ... the most influential museum of modern art in the world.”
^ First modern art museum featuring European works in Manhattan - Michael FitzGerald, Making Modernism: Picasso and the Creation of the Market for Twentieth-Century Art. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995. (p. 120)
^ Origins of MoMA and first successful loan exhibition - see John Ensor Harr and Peter J. Johnson, The Rockefeller Century: Three Generations of America's Greatest Family, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988. (pp.217-18)
^ John D. Rockefeller, Jr. one of MoMA's greatest benefactors - see Bernice Kert, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller: The Woman in the Family. New York: Random House, 1993. (pp.376,386)
^ Precursor to the current hold of van Gogh in public imagination - Ibid., (p.376)
^ MoMA's international prominence through the Picasso retrospective of 1939-40 - see FitzGerald, op.cit. (pp.243-62)
^ Time Magazine. 1939: The formal opening of MoMA
^ Updike, John (2004-11-15). Invisible Cathedral. The New Yorker. Retrieved on 2007-02-27. “Nothing in the new building is obtrusive, nothing is cheap. It feels breathless with unspared expense. It has the enchantment of a bank after hours, of a honeycomb emptied of honey and flooded with a soft glow.”
^ Smith, Roberta (2006-11-01). Tate Modern's Rightness Versus MoMA's Wrongs. New York Times. Retrieved on 2007-02-27. “The museum’s big, bleak, irrevocably formal lobby atrium ... is space that the Modern could ill afford to waste, and such frivolousness continues in its visitor amenities: the hard-to-find escalators and elevators, the too-narrow glass-sided bridges, the two-star restaurant on prime garden real estate where there should be an affordable cafeteria ...Yoshio Taniguchi’s MoMA is a beautiful building that plainly doesn’t work.”
^ Rybczynski, Witold (2005-03-30). Street Cred: Another Way of Looking at the New MOMA. Retrieved on 2007-02-27.
^ "Build Your Dream, Hold Your Breath." 6 August 2006 The New York Times.
MoMA's new architect 

by Walter Robinson 

In keeping with its global vision of the 21st-century art museum, the Museum of Modern Art has chosen Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi to design its new expansion and renovation. Tanaguchi's design will reshape the entire museum, moving the main entrance around to 54th Street, restoring the museum's famous garden to its original proportions and adding a new grand stairway and entrance atrium. Major new construction will include the addition of a seven-story annex structure for painting and sculpture galleries on the present site of the Dorset Hotel. 

The redesign makes the garden central to the museum's reconfigured ground floor spaces, and also brings the lines of Cesar Pelli's 52-story museum tower down to grade level, emphasizing the "urban character" of the museum, as MoMA architecture curator Terry Riley put it. The project calls for underground excavation on both the Dorset Hotel site and under the garden to create a new theater and an expanded department of video and film. The Goodwin-Stone facade, presently entrance to the museum proper, will be restored as the entrance to the film center. And MoMA's original "Bauhaus" staircase will once again become an integral connection between the galleries. 

Taniguchi's plan expands MoMA's present 86,000 square feet of gallery space to 133,000 square feet. But additional design refinements are expected in the coming months, according to MoMA director Glenn Lowry. What's the expansion's pricetag? The museum isn't saying yet, but it will "be less than the Getty," joked MoMA chairman Ronald Lauder at the press conference, in reference to the $1-billion J. Paul Getty Center opening this week in Los Angeles. When will it be finished? MoMA professes similar uncertainty as to the exact date, but Lauder has challenged Lowry to have it done in time for the museum's 75th anniversary in 2004. "What's great about this plan, nobody can explain," said the architect Philip Johnson, who designed MoMA's first expansion in 1951. "You will walk in and be smitten by art." 

This project is Taniguchi's first in the U.S. He has done a number of museums in Japan, including the Nagano Prefectural Museum (1990), the Marugame Genichiro-Inokuma Museum (1988-81), the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art (1991-95) and the Gallery of the Horyuji Treasures now under construction at the Tokyo National Museum. 

The two other finalists in MoMA's competition were Columbia University architecture dean Bernard Tschumi and the Swiss architectural team of Herzog and de Meuron. The museum's architect selection committee consisted of MoMA trustee Sid Bass, who served as chairman, plus Lauder, museum president Agnes Gund, MoMA chairman emeritus David Rockefeller, Marshall Cogan and Jerry Spier. 

WALTER ROBINSON is editor of ArtNet Magazine. 


May 5, 2004 

The Modern's Cool New Box: Displaying Art, Not Fighting It 


A digital image, looking east from the atrium's second floor in the Modern's new building. 

A digital image looking west at the building from the Sculpture Garden. 

"This is not destination architecture," Glenn D. Lowry, the director of the Museum of Modern Art, said, looking at his unfinished new building. "It is a museum." 

After seeing what a gleaming, eccentric museum like Frank Gehry's Guggenheim could do for a city like Bilbao, Spain, every museum director seemed poised to hire a signature architect, a Daniel Libeskind or a Frank Gehry, to design a showpiece. Every museum, that is, but the Museum of Modern Art. It has held fast to the cool white box. 

"A museum is not architecture, and it is not a collection," Mr. Lowry said. "It is both." A museum, in other words, should not compete with its art. 

The new Modern, by Yoshio Taniguchi, a Japanese architect who has never before designed a building outside Japan, will more than double the museum's gallery space and alter its configuration, lengthen the garden, add an atrium and highlight contemporary art. Construction costs are estimated at $425 million. 

But one thing will not change. The building will be thoroughly modern. The midtown Modern, scheduled to open in late November after being closed for two and a half years, is 630,000 square feet of straight walls, floors and ceilings with no obtrusive columns or dead-end hallways. It is a building with "a harmonic precision," Mr. Lowry said. 

But simple architecture is not always simple. Making a precise, rectilinear museum in a city that refuses to bend very much requires lots of logistical contortions. To cite a small example, the builders had to cut a notch out of one of museum's facades to preserve the view of St. Thomas Church from 54th Street. And in New York City many unions are involved, each with its own schedule. That makes a precisionist structure, where quarter-inch goofs can throw off the whole thing, extremely tricky to build. 

The museum looks far from finished. There are remnants of corn bread on the stairs, girly pictures on the unfinished walls, salsa playing on boom boxes, lighting being tested on Matisse posters, and plaster, plywood, granite and graffiti everywhere. This is the time when you can see everything that is going on under all those straight walls, windows and floors to keep the surfaces smooth and pure. 

The first and biggest obstacle to the Modern's seamlessness was the 54-story residential tower between the old and the new parts of the museum. The goal was to allow visitors to pass from old to new without ever knowing they had left the museum, Mr. Lowry said. But the tower, with its 248 residents, could not be razed. So the Modern got permission to "slice through the tower," Mr. Lowry said, "to penetrate the four feet of concrete that supported the tower." To insure that the tower, pierced by the Modern's passages and escalators, would not collapse, steel braces had to be installed in the lower nine floors. 

The new building's centerpiece is the second floor. The grand Zimbabwean black granite stairway leads here from the garden level. This is where the multistory atrium takes off. And this is the huge space for the museum's permanent collection of contemporary art, a 20,000-square-foot gallery that is strong enough and big enough to hold three Richard Serra sculptures. 

Mr. Lowry seemed particularly proud that this gallery and the sixth-floor space for temporary exhibitions have no columns. To accomplish this, he explained, engineers had to rig an armature above the eighth floor from which to hang the lower floors. 

"Maybe I'm jaded about the magic of all that," said Gregory Clement, the managing principal architect with Kohn Pedersen Fox, the New York firm that has been working with Mr. Taniguchi since the beginning. "It is one of those things that is done all the time." 

Mr. Clement seemed more excited to point out the small, often invisible things that were done to realize Mr. Taniguchi's ideas. The new building, he explained, not only looks minimalist but is, from top to bottom, inside and out, conceptually and in the details. 

Mr. Taniguchi's palette is minimalist, Mr. Clement explained: silver anodized aluminum panels mark the entrances and cover the canopies over the garden; a translucent milky-looking glass veils the older parts of the Modern; and black granite and gray glass cover the new east and west wings. 

Another feature of Mr. Taniguchi's reductive aesthetic is that every turn in the building is marked by a change in materials, so that it looks not like a solid block but a series of monochromatic planes. Of course each seemingly unitary plane is made up of many glass panes or stone slabs. But in Mr. Taniguchi's plan the joints are minuscule. 

Mr. Clement pointed to the black granite slabs that cover much of new building. Most buildings, he said, would have 3/8 inch to 1 1/4 inches of space between the slabs. That's what you need to allow for slight variations in the way the stone panels are cut and installed and for shifts under varying loads. "We got the joints down to one-quarter to three-eighths inch," he said, by adding spandrel beams that take some of the weight of the wall. (Spandrel beams connect the columns at the outer edge of the structural frame.) 

Mr. Lowry noted that Mr. Taniguchi was given few directives. One was to keep the garden "exactly as it was." Another was to make sure the building would be "suffused with light." Thus two huge windows, nearly floor to ceiling, face each other at opposite ends of the Sculpture Garden. Both are topped by anodized aluminum canopies. Both rise straight up from the ground level to the sixth floor. And in this case, Mr. Lowry noted, straight really does mean straight. "We designed it so that the facade has zero-degree deflection. There's no bow." 

Mr. Clement indicated that the real feat with the windows lay elsewhere. The glass walls, he said, float free from the floor, appearing to be autonomous planes. And to make things more challenging yet, Mr. Taniguchi wanted the mullions between the panes of glass to be as slim as possible, slimmer than the usual 3 1/2 to 4 inches. That meant that a conventional aluminum system would not be strong enough. Steel mullions had to be used. 

The same rectilinear precision goes for the ceilings and walls of the galleries. Although they are nothing but sheetrock with a plaster skin, they had to be absolutely straight. Mr. Lowry pointed out a reveal between a wall and doorway that narrowed toward the bottom. "This is not acceptable," he said. He then showed how some ring-shaped fittings for smoke detectors and sprinklers did not sit smoothly in the ceiling. "Most people won't see this," he said, but cumulatively they will pick up on it. Either it's "a quiet ceiling" or there's a disturbance. 

Even the floors should feel quiet, Mr. Lowry said. Most of the gallery floors are simple oak, but they hide a complex layering. At the bottom is concrete. On top of that are sleepers, planks fitted with rubber runners. On top of that is a grid of boards, stuffed with sound insulation. Then there's a plywood base and finally the oak. The result: "The floor has give to it," Mr. Lowry said. It's a quiet walk. 

Given all this rectilinear rigor, it is odd that the museum has bent so far on one point. It has given up the idea that the history of modern art is a straight course, a simple, triumphant narrative. The old building had one way into each gallery, Mr. Lowry said. The story the museum told, he added, "was too reductive, too simple." So this time the Modern decided to make its galleries porous. In other words, "there's not a single linear route." 

Although you can take what Mr. Lowry called the "synoptic route," which begins with contemporary art on the second floor and moves back to the earliest Modern Art on the fifth, you don't have to stay on the path. A variety of stairs, escalators and elevators connects all the floors. "We don't want people to feel they're on a train," Mr. Lowry said. "Art history is not a linear process." 

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company


June 9, 2004 

More Than Child's Play: Making Over the Modern 


Hope Cullinan of the Museum of Modern Art staff adjusts miniatures of artworks on a model of the museum, which is being expanded and will reopen in November. 

In a windowless office in Queens, five curators are poring over an 18-foot-long model of the new painting and sculpture galleries at the Museum of Modern Art's vastly expanded West 53rd Street home, which will reopen in November. They are like children playing with a doll's house, but instead of make-believe furniture, their toys are the greatest collection of modern art in the world. Ever so delicately, tiny reproductions of "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" by Picasso, "The Dance" by Matisse and "Flag" by Jasper Johns have been taped to the walls. 

There are also miniature sculptures by Judd and Flavin and even Claes Oldenburg's whimsical giant ice-cream cone reduced to the size of a thumb. As the curators work, some of the sculptures are accidentally knocked over in the process of rehanging some of the paintings — faces cringe. What looks like a game is actually serious work. 

"The last chapter of the story is always the most difficult," said John Elderfield, the Modern's chief curator of painting and sculpture, who has been reluctant to reveal his plans for reinstalling the collection. "You have to think what to leave people with." 

It is a daunting task: to use the museum's vast collection to tell the history of modern art in new and unfamiliar galleries. 

Not only has the museum's collection grown and changed enormously since the institution's founding in 1929, but so has the way that people look at art. 

"We're talking to a younger and in many ways better-educated audience but one that is not necessarily more sophisticated," said Glenn D. Lowry, the Museum of Modern Art's director. "We're trying to lay out the history of the Modern while recognizing that it's a provisional history, one that has not been fully written and one that will continue to change and evolve." 

The museum is also playing to a far larger audience, one that has nearly doubled over the last 10 years. 

Mr. Lowry and his curatorial team have been grappling with the challenge of creating a new Modern since 1996 when the museum bought the neighboring Dorset Hotel along with two adjacent brownstones and embarked on an $858 million renovation and expansion. 

Designed by the Japanese architect Yoshi Taniguchi, the new museum is an elegantly minimal building of black granite, dark gray, clear and etched glass with about 63,000 square feet of new and renovated spaces on six floors. The exhibition space alone has grown to 125,000 square feet from 85,000 square feet with galleries clustered around a soaring 110-foot-tall atrium. 

And what will go where in those galleries? While the curators have a general idea of how they want the galleries to look, none will discuss specifics, saying that until they get the art into the new space they cannot tell exactly what will go where. But some logical chronologies will occur, they say, beginning with seminal late 19th-century and early 20th-century paintings like "The Bather" by Cezanne (1885) and "The Starry Night" by van Gogh (1893) straight through to more contemporary work from Rachel Whiteread, Takashi Murakami and Damien Hirst. 

The design of the new galleries, the curators say, gives visitors the option of following the collection historically or picking specific sections that will be able to stand on their own. 

What visitors will see when the museum opens to the public on Nov. 20, Mr. Lowry said, is simply one installation that will be constantly evolving. Unlike the collection of any other museum of modern art in the world, the Modern's is so rich that it has the option of being able to give artists from Gorky through Warhol and Lichtenstein miniretrospectives if the curators so choose. 

Over the years its installations have tended to reflect the eye of one curator, most notably Alfred H. Barr Jr., the legendary founding director of the museum. But this time, while the painting and sculpture galleries will ultimately reflect the sensibility of Mr. Elderfield, he has worked closely with his team. When he was named the museum's chief curator for painting and sculpture last year, Mr. Elderfield hired Joachim Pissarro, who had been the curator of European and contemporary art at the Yale University Art Gallery, and Ann Temkin, who had been the curator of contemporary art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. They joined Anne Umland, a senior curator, and Elizabeth Levine, the department's curatorial manager. At first each curator was given an area to work on. Now as the opening nears, the group is collaborating, gallery by gallery, using the model as inspiration. 

"I felt strongly that each gallery should have a subject," Mr. Elderfield said. "I want each gallery to have a kind of integrity so that if it were taken out of the museum and plunked into the middle of Central Park, it would be a viable show on its own." He declined to give specifics. 

But now rather than giving certain artists their own galleries, he said, they will be more integrated. Mondrian, for instance, always hung by himself. His paintings will now join other abstract artists who will rotate over time. 

Another significant change is that the sequence of galleries is being reversed so that contemporary art is the first thing people will see. The space on the second floor, 15,000 square feet of giant, uninterrupted spaces with nearly 21-foot-high ceilings and no columns, can easily accommodate monumental, multiton sculptures. 

The combination of the building's modern architecture and the contemporary art within it sends an intentional message: this is the place to come to see art of the new. (It was also a practical decision since oversize sculptures can be installed from the street by crane, which would be impossible with the higher floors.) 

Mr. Lowry admitted that the museum was bowing to popular taste. "The interest in contemporary art has been growing since the 1970's," he said. "It has become intense today. An increasingly large number of visitors come specifically to see contemporary art. We hope to engage their curiosity about the past." 

And so in much the same way that department stores purposely put their most salable merchandise on the top floor, forcing shoppers to go through the entire building to get it, visitors to the new Modern will have to go to the fifth floor to see the early masterpieces of modern art. 

Dealing with the world after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has also changed the way the curators think, Mr. Lowry said. Before 9/11, 40 percent to 50 percent of visitors were foreign. Today about 80 percent are American. "That's a huge demographic shift," Mr. Lowry said, one that will not necessarily alter the nature of installations but that will change the kind of educational materials the museum provides. 

"One would be foolish not to assume that we live in a moment that is highly charged and certain images take on a new meaning," Mr. Lowry continued. "Immediately after 9/11, Jasper Johns's "Flag" paintings suddenly acquired a newfound resonance despite the fact that it was not intentional or necessarily desired on the part of the artist. Yet we cannot avoid these references and don't want to." 

Then there is the changing nature of art. Over the years the lines have been blurred between painting, drawing, photography, film and video. The permanent galleries will do much more to mix these mediums. There will be paintings by Warhol in the photography galleries and Expressionist prints in the painting's galleries. Photographs will also show up in the second-floor contemporary art galleries. 

But perhaps the biggest dilemma is how to tell the story of art of the last 30 years. "It's not a definitive account," Mr. Elderfield said. But, he stressed, by the time visitors reach the last room they will have traveled in time from the 1880's to the present. 

"I would hope that people get the message that art from all periods is somehow connected," he said. "That the sequence of art, while drastically different, also relates very powerfully to one another." 

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

June 17, 2004 

The Danes Rule at the Modern Museum 


FAMILIAR Arne Jacobsen's Series 7 chair. 

HOT AND MODERN A Georg Jensen coffeepot. 

THE Swedish home furnishings giant Ikea had an advertisement that declared of America: "It's a big country. Someone's got to furnish it." Now that the big, newly refurbished Museum of Modern Art is nearing completion, the Danes are furnishing it. The Danish government has persuaded the museum to use Danish furnishings for almost all the public areas of its expanded quarters — a triumph of trade policy and product placement. 

When last seen, the museum had custom-made wooden benches and a mix of other furnishings, only one of of which will make a return engagement: the Bertoia wire chairs in the sculpture garden designed for Knoll in the 1950's. 

"There was no attempt at a kind of uniform all-over effort," said Terence Riley, chief architecture and design curator at the museum. 

When the museum reopens, on Nov. 20, the pieces will be unified by source: Denmark. Works by 33 Danish designers, including Arne Jacobsen and Hans Wegner, will be used in the lobby, the cafe and the cafeteria, among other places. The furnishings have a retail value of several million dollars. 

The benches by Poul Kjaerholm upholstered in black leather in the galleries and foyers will be Danish, and so will the Georg Jensen coffeepots, the Erik Bagger wine goblets, the Rosendahl candleholders, the Jensen flatware and the Royal Copenhagen china in the restaurant. Some 150 articles are being supplied at a discount by 13 Danish manufacturers and paid for by the Danish government and Danish foundations. 

"In some ways I think it's completely excellent, and in some ways I'm just shocked that it's completely Danish," said Zesty Meyers, an owner of R 20th Century, a New York gallery that specializes in vintage design. "That just makes no sense to me, because good design is from all over the world." 

The only non-Danish items in the public areas, aside from the Bertoia chairs, will be narrow Knoll benches in some galleries. Four of the Danish objects are already in the permanent collection, including Jacobsen's popular Series 7 chair from 1955, and half of the designers are otherwise represented in the permanent collection. 

The agreement with the Danish government was announced last week at a preview of the museum's vastly expanded premises. "The Italians are going to go nuts, and so will the Swedes," said Irene Krarup, the Danish cultural attaché who helped arrange the deal. 

"I am somewhat envious," Olle Wastberg, the Swedish consul general in New York, said mildly. "We wish we could have done it. The Danes are to be congratulated." 

Gianmarco Pugliese, an Italian Trade Commission marketing official, termed the Danish move "a pretty smart play." 

Officials at the museum stress that all the objects underwent curatorial vetting. Although the museum also considered using furnishings by American and Italian makers, the Danes succeeded with their package deal. "It would have been rather churlish to go around the Danes and shop for a better deal," Mr. Riley said, "when the fact is that they had the initiative, and they had the goods." 

The Danes also had an advantage in that the approach to the museum was made by their government, not by individuals. "We could have filled the whole museum with American design, but there's no one person you could talk to," Mr. Riley said. 

Negotiations got under way in September 2002, when the Danes offered to sponsor furniture and accessories in the public areas. Once the museum decided that 95 percent of the furnishings would be Danish, the Danish government made its offer of a gift. "The curators went on a shopping spree," said Michael Metz Morch, the Danish consul general in New York. 

Paola Antonelli, a design curator at the museum, went to Denmark this year to look over more than 300 products, including prototypes. The furnishings she selected were shipped to New York, where other curators tried them out, along with trustees; Ronald S. Lauder, the chairman of the museum; and Glenn D. Lowry, the director. The new furnishings will complement the clean-lined architecture and restrained color palette of Yoshio Taniguchi's new building, Mr. Riley said. 

New tableware selected for the museum will go on sale at its design store in August, along with a few furniture pieces. The Danes will be acknowledged on a plaque in the museum. 

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company


September 21, 2003 

The Modern's Other Renovation 


Why is the logo on top "digital," "soulless" and downright "hideous," while the logo on bottom shows "character," "warmth" and a "profound respect for the past?" 

ON vacation in Greensboro, Vt., in the summer of 1966, Alfred H. Barr, the Museum of Modern Art's first director, had an epiphany. The museum's official abbreviation — long "MOMA" — would, Barr thought, be better served by a lowercase "o": "MoMA." In letters sent from the city, his colleagues took issue with his holiday musings; "it gives me terrible visual hiccoughs," one wrote. 

The hiccoughs apparently took decades to subside. It wasn't until the mid-80's that the museum deemed "MoMA" proper enough for use in member communications, and another decade passed before the acronym appeared on banners outside the museum. Today, the museum recognizes that most people identify it by the word "MoMA" — not just the sound of the acronym, but also its look. "That lowercase `o' trapped between those two M's creates a unique word-shape that is translinguistic," Ed Pusz, director of the museum's graphic design department says. "It's accessible to people who don't speak the language." 

So it's with a sense of great care that the museum's leaders introduce their latest innovation: a redesigned MoMA logo, a newly scrubbed face by which the revered institution will soon present itself to the world on signs, coffee mugs and subway ads, and throughout the Yoshio Taniguchi-designed expansion and renovation planned to open near the end of 2004. As befits a change of such import, the redesign was undertaken with much attention: the museum hired perhaps the world's foremost typographer, paid him in the low five figures and spent eight months scrutinizing every tiny step in the process. 

The outcome? Well, it's subtle. 

You would have to look rather closely to see it. Extremely closely. In fact, someone could set the old logo and the new logo side by side and stare for some time before detecting even the slightest distinction. The folks who led the exhaustive makeover process couldn't be more pleased. 

As might be expected of some of the most visually aware people in the world, those who have worked on the the Modern's typefaces have a remarkable history of typographic self-scrutiny. In 1964, the museum replaced its geometric letterforms typical of the Bauhaus and German modernism with Franklin Gothic No. 2, one of the grandest and most familiar of American typefaces. Designed in 1902 by Morris Fuller Benton in Jersey City, Franklin is simultaneously muscular, with an imposing weight, and humanist, with letterforms reminiscent of the strokes of the calligrapher's pen rather than a mechanical compass. "Quite simply, it's a face that's modern with roots," Ivan Chermayeff, the designer who made the selection for the museum, recalled recently. "It has some character, and therefore some warmth about it, and some sense of the hand — i.e., the artist. All of which seemed to me to make a lot of sense for the Museum of Modern Art, which is not only looking to the future but also looking to the past." 

Mr. Chermayeff's logic held up. Aside from what Mr. Pusz calls a "blip" around the time the museum's expansion opened in 1984, the museum has used Franklin consistently for nearly 40 years. So when the Modern asked the Toronto-based designer Bruce Mau to explore a range of possibilities for the new building's signage — including rounder, more symmetrical typefaces — he felt strongly that Franklin should be left alone. "Everybody gets tired of their own voice," Mr. Mau said from his studio in Toronto, "and so they want to change it. But I was like: `Don't mess with it! It's an extraordinary landmark identity: don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.' " 

The museum's director, Glen Lowry, agreed. "We looked at all sorts of options, and said, `You know, we don't need to go there.' Our self-image hasn't shifted so dramatically that our identity needs to be expressed in an utterly new way. We don't need to go from chintz to stripes." 

But Mr. Mau noticed that the Franklin the museum was using didn't seem to him like Franklin at all. Somewhere in the process of its evolution from Benton's original metal type to the readily available digital one it had lost some of its spirit, becoming "a hybrid digital soulless version," in Mr. Pusz's words. Metal type traditionally has slight variations between point sizes, to compensate for the properties of ink and differences in proportion. But digital versions of historic typefaces are often created from metal originals of a single point size — as was the case with the commercially available Franklin. It had been digitized from metal type of a small size, distending the proportions at its larger sizes. Once its defects were recognized, they became glaring: the letters were squat and paunchy, sapping all the elegance out of the white space between them. With some of the signage applications in the new building requiring type four feet tall, the small variations became "hideous," Mr. Pusz said. 

The museum approached the pre-eminent typographer Matthew Carter about "refreshing" the typeface. On the Mac in his third-floor walk-up apartment in Cambridge, Mass., Mr. Carter has designed many of the letterforms we swallow daily in unthinking gulps — among them typefaces for National Geographic, Sports Illustrated and The Washington Post, as well as Bell Centennial, used in phone books, and Verdana, the Microsoft screen font. Trained originally as a type founder — the person who forges type from hot metal — Mr. Carter pioneered typography's transition to computer-based desktop publishing in the 1980's when he helped found Bitstream, the first digital type foundry. He was one of the first to embrace the idea that type no longer necessarily began with metal forms and ended as an impression on paper; it could be designed, implemented and read without ever escaping the confines of the computer screen. 

Refreshing Franklin was, Mr. Carter said, "like asking an architect to design an exact replica of a building." But it was a job he was happy to do: "That opportunity to really study these letterforms and capture them as faithfully as I could was sort of an education to me." 

His task was aided by eight trays of metal type of Franklin Gothic No. 2 that had surfaced not long before in the Modern's basement. Not knowing at the time what he would do with them, Mr. Pusz wheeled the trays one by one on a desk chair down the block to his temporary office on the Avenue of the Americas. Mr. Carter scanned printed samples from the trays, and using a software program called Fontographer, began the long process of plotting the curve points for each letter — a task requiring the full extent of his long-learned craft. He also had to invent the variety of characters typical of modern fonts that didn't exist in the metal — currency signs and accents, for example. The resulting typeface — two slight variations, actually, one for signage and one for text — are now being tested on mockups by the Modern's graphic design department to see how they look in different sizes and forms, and, after yet more tweaking, will soon be installed on computers across the museum. 

But will anyone notice? "I suspect that if we're really successful the public won't really notice the difference, it will just feel right," Mr. Lowry said. Even if this is a carefully calculated exercise in branding, at least it's true (nearly comically so) to the mission of the museum: less MoMA Inc. than a bunch of aesthetes staring at the shape of their own name until their eyes cross. Perhaps in the sharpened interstices of the "m" or the slightly more pinched ellipse of the "o" there might exist a statement of what the Modern wants to be — you just have to squint to see it. "I think that's really at the heart of the institution's premise, which is a deep and profound respect for the past, and an absolute willingness to engage the present — and a recognition that they're not mutually exclusive," Mr. Lowry said. 

No, but sometimes they do look pretty similar. 

Andrew Blum is a frequent contributor to Metropolis. 

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company


New York's great modern museum is reborn, thanks to $425 million and an unlikely architect named Taniguchi 
By Cathleen McGuigan 

Oct. 11 issue - Early one evening last spring, on the edge of the Inland Sea in Japan, architect Yoshio Taniguchi was showing off the construction site of a small museum he'd designed. Taniguchi, 67, is silver-haired and tall (too tall to buy Japanese menswear) and, like his serene modernist buildings, has an air of elegance and calm. "A lot of architects design a lot of details," Taniguchi was saying. "I try to conceal details." His brand of modernism doesn't always express its structure; instead, his buildings tend to have a lightness of being, defying the steel, glass, concrete and stone it took to make them. Their exquisite craftsmanship is legendary, and Japanese contractors are proud to oblige him. "In Japan, Taniguchi walks on clouds," says Brian Aamoth, an American architect who's worked with him there. Later, ordering drinks before dinner, Taniguchi talked about how different building methods are in America. But he never really answered the question of why such a famous architect at home had taken so long to design outside Japan. "You are psychoanalyzing me," he said with a slight smile. Then his cocktail arrived. It was a Manhattan. 

When Taniguchi was chosen to design the new, vastly expanded Museum of Modern Art seven years ago, a lot of people in the art world scratched their heads. Out of 10 architects invited to compete for this prize commission (all were under 60—MoMA had ruled out the generation of Frank Gehry), Taniguchi was virtually unknown in America, and his scheme for MoMA's midtown Manhattan site seemed so smooth and corporate—so unfashionably tame—it looked like a long shot next to the provocative concepts of such hotshots as Rem Koolhaas and Herzog & de Meuron. Even Taniguchi didn't think he'd win. Convinced he'd fatally fumbled his key presentation to MoMA's trustees, he headed straight to a neighborhood bar to mourn. 

Next month, after nearly four years of construction, MoMA will finally open the doors of his quietly elegant modernist building. The stakes are high—the building alone cost $425 million—and the debate that began with Taniguchi's selection isn't entirely over. It goes to the heart of the museum's identity and signals a shift in contemporary architecture. After years of eye-popping museum design (most famously Gehry's gorgeously curvy Guggenheim Bilbao), Taniguchi's self-effacing building rejects the status of icon, as if to murmur, "Don't mind me—just look at the art." After all, the art is the richest collection of modern masterworks in the world, from Monet's "Water Lilies" to Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" to Andy Warhol's soup cans. Some of MoMA's devout followers believed the museum—the first to create a department of architecture—betrayed its mission by building Taniguchi's scheme rather than something jazzier. But MoMA, 75 years old and hardly a haven for the avant-garde, makes no apology. "It's like having an English suit or an Italian suit," says museum director Glenn Lowry. "Yoshio's building is the English suit—it's not flamboyant but it's perfectly tailored and will be the same in 100 years as it is today." 

Taniguchi likes to say his goal is to make the architecture "disappear." And while we don't believe him literally—his ego is fiercely invested in his design principles and his impeccable details—his understated approach at MoMA is to subtly and meticulously create experiences of shifting spaces, light and views as you move through the museum. He started with a homage, restoring the facades of the original 1939 museum by Philip Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone and Philip Johnson's 1964 east wing. He then turned his focus to the famous sculpture garden—"the heart of the museum," he says—and framed it with immaculately cool glass-curtain walls and deep, porchlike overhangs. Then, inside the museum, Taniguchi, in his quiet way, went to town: his new entrance cuts a wide public passage through the city block. From there, you cross a spacious ticket lobby and wham!—you're standing in a gorgeous 110-foot-high atrium, flooded with daylight, looking out at that garden. A wide stairway of green slate—or the escalators tucked in beyond—take you up to the art. 

The galleries (now covering 125,000 square feet, up from 85,000 in the old building) are classic white boxes, but they vary in size from large to larger, and are arranged so the visitor can wander at will, rather than being force-marched in one direction. On the second floor, one spectacular gallery sprawls 200 feet without columns—a triumph of engineering and a manifestation of MoMA's new commitment to show large-scale contemporary art, like Richard Serra's sculptures. But the best thing about Taniguchi's scheme may be its urbanity. Not only has he neatly knit his complex design into the tight city site but he gives you frequent glimpses of the street and neighboring rooftops from windowed galleries or the atrium's balconies. His museum is meant to mediate between the chaos of New York and the contemplation of art. 

Taniguchi has had a lifelong relationship with Western modernism. His father was an early modern architect in Tokyo, and he remembers the impact of "a very colorful culture" brought by American GIs to Japan after the gray war years: "Lucky Strikes, Coca-Cola, Life magazine, Blondie and Superman!" At 21, Taniguchi went to Harvard's Graduate School of Design, the bastion of the Bauhaus, and then worked for Kenzo Tange, who was Japan's foremost modern architect. During those years, he spent time in New York and of course visited the Museum of Modern Art. "I was more interested in the people than the paintings," he recalls. "I liked watching how they looked at the art and how they moved." 

If you go to any of Taniguchi's museums in Japan, you begin to appreciate how MoMA's architect-selection committee must have felt when they first saw his work, as they toured Asia and Europe in trustee Ronald Lauder's private jet. The buildings are incredibly seductive—monumental but spare, with surprising shifts in scale—and beautifully crafted. Take the exquisite Gallery of Horyuji Treasures in Tokyo (1999), a structure of delicacy and strength, with a screen of slender steel louvers masking a soaring glass facade. To approach, you walk on water—across a bridge that just clears a tranquil pool. But to get inside, you have to make a little turn and go through a small, low-ceilinged vestibule—meant to suggest the entrance to a traditional tea ceremony, where you humble yourself by ducking through a small opening. Along with his rigorous passion for modernism, and the influence of such masters as Mies van der Rohe, Taniguchi's buildings are inevitably suffused with Japanese culture. 

Taniguchi had big budgets during Japan's boom years in the '80s and '90s: the Horyuji gallery cost twice per square foot what MoMA did, and you can see every yen. Many wondered how the perfection of Taniguchi's design details could be replicated in the United States. As it happens, the supervision and much of the detailing of MoMA was put into the hands of a big New York firm, Kohn Pedersen Fox. Last June, Taniguchi toured the MoMA construction site for the first time in months. "In Japan, I design everything, even the door handles," he said. "I'll be honest with you, many details here are different from mine. But the concept I proposed is here." And Taniguchi got his way on key elements. Check out those glass-curtain walls surrounding the garden. The panes are huge (read: expensive) and the mullions are solid steel but very thin (read: superexpensive). The effect is beautifully crisp. "Yoshio won many battles through sheer obstinacy," says Terence Riley, chief curator of architecture. "He would explain so well why something had to be just so—and sometimes he would win by simply a long silence." 

Riley argues that Taniguchi's architecture in fact looks radical these days: "It's all straight lines!" Whether radical or retro, what this master of minimalist beauty has created through his gifts and his tenacity is a design lesson in itself. But the ultimate judgment will have to wait: Taniguchi himself told a MoMA curator who'd complimented him that considering the building without the art in it is like admiring the tea cup without the green tea. Next month the museum will have art on the walls and crowds in the galleries—and then the tea ceremony will begin. 
© 2004 Newsweek, Inc. 





Yoshio Taniguchi’s elegant expansion of the Modern. 

Issue of 2004-11-15 
Posted 2004-11-08 

The first building that the Museum of Modern Art put up for itself, in 1939, wasn’t sumptuous, like the Met, or extravagantly sculptural, like the Guggenheim, two decades later. It was a crisp, blunt box. Philip L. Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone’s International Style architecture was defiantly austere—a retort to the idea that museums should resemble grandiose palaces. The white marble building burst out of a row of genteel brownstones on West Fifty-third Street, forcing its way into the Manhattan cityscape. It was a matter of pride that the new building looked nothing like its neighbors. 

The museum’s idiosyncratic appearance was always a bit of a pose, however. Though the building’s original design emphasized its difference from the old architecture around it, the ultimate goal of the Modern’s curators was to make all the old stuff go away. In 1951, a new wing by Philip Johnson was built along the museum’s western edge, and in 1964 another, larger Johnson addition appeared on its eastern flank. The Modern grew again in 1984, with a new section by Cesar Pelli, who also designed a companion fifty-two-story apartment tower. And with the opening, this month, of the largest expansion yet, a four-hundred-and-twenty-five-million-dollar addition and renovation by the Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi, the Modern has pretty much taken over the block. The museum stretches along Fifty-third Street from just west of Fifth Avenue to just short of Sixth, and it reaches north to cover most of Fifty-fourth Street, too. You couldn’t ask for a clearer symbol of how modernism has moved from the cultural fringe to the mainstream. Not only has it been years since the art at the Modern has challenged anyone—its Matisses and Pollocks are beloved by all—but Taniguchi’s strict geometries of stone and glass feel as conventional as a Doric colonnade. 

When the Goodwin and Stone building opened, Lewis Mumford wrote that “it possesses, to a degree not dreamed of even by the designers of Rockefeller Center, the luxury of space.” But it wasn’t particularly big; it was barely larger than the neighboring brownstones. Arthur Drexler, who headed the architecture-and-design department for decades, liked to observe that until the 1984 expansion you could fit the entire Museum of Modern Art into the Great Hall of the Met. The Modern didn’t have any enormous galleries, and most of its exhibition spaces were domestic in scale. In fact, the affection that many people felt for the museum was formed by the experience of seeing paintings in fairly small, low-ceilinged white rooms. 

The 1984 expansion was an attempt to make the museum bigger without changing its basic qualities, and it didn’t work very well. The galleries got somewhat larger and there were many more of them, this time connected by a prominent set of escalators—yet the place felt unnaturally attenuated, like a stretch limousine. The general feeling about the expansion was summed up by Kirk Varnedoe, the chief curator of painting and sculpture, who said, “We squeezed the last juice you could get out of that model and maybe killed it in the process.” In 1996, when Varnedoe made that remark, it was clear that if the Modern was to grow again it would have to break from small, white rooms and neutral, International Style architecture. Ronald Lauder, the museum’s chairman, reinforced this idea, saying that, as far as the trustees were concerned, the architecture should be “as exciting as possible.” 

That isn’t what happened. The Modern talked to dozens of architects, including Rem Koolhaas, Bernard Tschumi, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, and Steven Holl, as well as Taniguchi, and it commissioned casual studies from ten architects and then more detailed plans from three. In 1997, the museum snubbed the radicals and hired Taniguchi, who represents not the cutting edge of architecture but, rather, a carefully wrought, highly refined modernism—a cool and reserved aesthetic that has more in common with the Modern’s original credo than with the expressive direction of recent architecture and museum design. 

The decision, I suspect, was based in part on disappointment with the avant-garde architects’ proposals but mostly on the realization that the Modern is fundamentally a conservative institution. The choice of Taniguchi wasn’t so much a failure of nerve as a moment of institutional self-knowledge. This museum wouldn’t have wanted Bilbao if Frank Gehry had done it for nothing. The Modern has supported, collected, and celebrated architectural design more than any other museum in America, but it has never allowed its identity to be defined by any architecture of its own. It is one thing to display Frank Lloyd Wright models inside your galleries; it is quite another to have Rem Koolhaas design your building. The Modern chose Taniguchi, a sixty-seven-year-old architect who was educated at Harvard but has done almost all of his professional work in Japan, because it thought that he could best preserve the museum’s DNA. 

That doesn’t explain why Taniguchi’s new Modern is as good as it is. Taniguchi clearly understood a paradox that underscores this project—that his success at keeping the museum the same would come, in part, from his ability to recognize how much had to change. His Modern was going to be nearly twice the size of the previous one, and he knew better than to simply distend the old spaces. With its sleek glass walls and sharp, rectilinear lines, Taniguchi’s huge building superficially resembles the Modern of old, but in many ways it represents a greater change than the oddly shaped buildings proposed by some architects the museum considered, like Herzog and de Meuron, who suggested adding a prismatic glass tower, but would have left the museum’s most celebrated paintings in the old Goodwin and Stone galleries. 

Although Taniguchi has created some superb display spaces, his design is most splendid, and subtle, in its urbanism. Until now, the Modern has had an unresolved, almost hesitant relationship with midtown Manhattan. When the benign tension between the 1939 building and the old houses disappeared, nothing replaced it. The museum didn’t feel connected to the city, except in the sculpture garden. When the Modern bought and demolished the Dorset Hotel, on Fifty-fourth Street, along with numerous small brownstones, its site grew not only bigger but also more complex, and Taniguchi saw this as a chance to weave the building into the fabric of the city. He gave it a new entrance, on Fifty-fourth Street, and he provided a public passageway through the block to Fifty-third Street, a huge lobby that anyone can use as a shortcut through a busy section of midtown. The museum now faces both streets, and it has finally become part of the connective tissue of Manhattan. The old Modern occupied the street in sullen isolation; this one dances with its neighbors. Taniguchi even sliced away a bit of his building in the southeast corner of the garden, where it might have blocked a portion of St. Thomas Church, which adjoins the museum to the east. On the inside, he has set skylights on the top floor, right against the base of Pelli’s tower, creating dazzling views right up its side toward the sky. 

Taniguchi’s façade of absolute black granite, aluminum panels, and white and gray glass is elegantly restrained. It proves that you can ensconce a building within a kind of classic modern tradition and still imbue it with freshness. And the design works on a large scale—so well that Pelli’s apartment tower, which always seemed too big, now feels like a natural part of a composition. It is balanced by a new, smaller tower at the west end of the site, which houses the museum’s offices, and by two monumental, portico-like gateways at the east and west ends of the sculpture garden. Those porticoes, which resemble gigantic bookends, frame the garden from inside the building, and from the outside they ennoble the transition between the garden and the museum. The sculpture garden has been restored to its original Philip Johnson design (Pelli encroached on it with a greenhouselike structure containing escalators), but the new surroundings that Taniguchi has made for it give the garden a greater intensity. 

The interior is a little less reserved than the outside, but not much. The new lobby offers glimpses up to a six-story skylit atrium that cuts through the new gallery floors, Taniguchi’s acknowledgment that a building this big needs vertical as well as horizontal space. The atrium contains precisely positioned openings, projections, balconies, and overlooks; it is a pristine exercise in proportion, scale, and light, not the kind of razzle-dazzle hotel architecture that the word “atrium” calls to mind. 

Once inside the museum, visitors follow a sequence that is quite different from that of the old Modern: contemporary art is shown mainly in a set of large, double-height galleries on the second floor, and you move backward in time as you rise through the building and the ceilings get lower. The famous paintings that once hung on the second floor are now on the fifth, in rooms that are only slightly larger than the old ones. At the top of the gallery wing, on the sixth floor, are grand, loftlike galleries for temporary exhibitions. 

The main difference is that there is no longer a single sequence of movement, as there famously was at the Modern: one route through obsessively linear galleries that presented the history of art as a straight shot from Cézanne to Picasso to Matisse. The Modern’s singular view of art history came, over time, to take on the stature of myth, and these days politically correct critics call it into question, but the fact is that the gallery scheme was as much a result of physical limitations as of curators’ sensibilities. In the narrow confines of the old Modern, there wasn’t really room to arrange things any other way. Now, though, the building is vast, and its galleries aren’t episodes in a narrative but hyperlinks, offering connections in multiple directions. Terence Riley, the head of the museum’s department of architecture and design, refers to the layout as resembling the child’s game Chutes and Ladders—you can move straight through, or you can slip down a stairway or up an escalator and find yourself in an entirely different moment in the history of art. This approach is more liberating than confusing, because the basic order of the building is always apparent; this museum is not a structure that, like the Met, rambles so much that you get lost in it. 

Some of the most pleasant aspects of the design are in the details: a magnificent cantilevered staircase of wood and metal between the fourth and fifth floors is an expert homage to Mies van der Rohe. Taniguchi makes a complex array of balconies, bridges, porticoes, stairs, openings, vistas, and passageways seem serene rather than hyperactive. The building won’t feel busy enough for people weaned on the non-stop stimulation of a lot of today’s architecture, and it won’t feel modest enough for people who insist that God meant the Museum of Modern Art to be small. But I suspect that it will please almost everybody else. 

The architect has also restored the façade of the original Goodwin and Stone building, whose Thermolux translucent panels were covered up long ago to provide more hanging space. The restoration is exquisite, and it is both uplifting and saddening. The old building looks better than it has in half a century, both inside and out. But it has been spiffed up like a grande dame who has been dressed to be put on display at her grandchild’s party. When you look at the old building from Fifty-third Street, it seems almost embalmed—a beautiful relic trapped inside a sprawling temple. 



A walk through the new Modern. 

Issue of 2004-11-15 
Posted 2004-11-08 

Times Square has been sanitized and skyscraperized; the subway cars are brightly lit inside and graffiti-free inside and out. New York is going pristine. It is not easy, while gingerly stepping over loose floorboards and extension cords as thick as boa constrictors, to picture the new Museum of Modern Art in every tidy and clean-swept detail, but enough was on view last month to persuade this visitor that the final effect will be immaculate, rectilinear, capacious, and chaste. Whether or not more could be asked of a museum, of a modern museum, I don’t know. The white interiors, chamber upon chamber, some already hung with old friends from moma’s collection and some as bare as a freshly plastered storage closet, gave, a few weeks shy of their unveiling to the public, the impression of a condition delicately balanced between presence and absence. The architect, Yoshio Taniguchi, is Japanese, and a riddling Zen reticence presided over the acres of white wall and white-oak floor, the countless beady little halogen spotlights on their discreetly recessed tracks, the sheets of light-filtering “fritted” glass with their tiny pale strips of baked-in ceramic, and the hushed escalators, whose oily works, not yet functional, were exposed to view and to the ministrations of workmen. Looking into these gears laid bare put me in mind, nostalgically, of the early Giacometti sculpture, “Woman with Her Throat Cut,” that used to lie on a low pedestal on the second floor, and of Arnaldo Pomodoro’s great bronze ball, its polished skin partially flayed, that for a time sat in the old lobby. 

Nothing in the new building is obtrusive, nothing is cheap. It feels breathless with unspared expense. It has the enchantment of a bank after hours, of a honeycomb emptied of honey and flooded with a soft glow. My guide, William J. Maloney, the genial project director, quoted the architect as saying to the museum trustees something like this: “Raise a lot of money for me, I’ll give you good architecture. Raise even more money, I’ll make the architecture disappear.” And disappear, in a way, it has. The customary sensations that buildings give us—of secure enclosure, of masses of matter firmly supported—are diluted by a black gap, a mere quarter inch wide, that runs along the bottom and top of every interior wall, and even at the base of weight-bearing pillars, so that everything, subtly, floats. The gaps are useful for heat and air-conditioning, too, but their aesthetic accomplishment is to dematerialize the walls; the visitor moves through spaces demarcated as if by Japanese paper screens. As he moves, artfully arranged glimpses out into the city and across a dizzying, hundred-and-ten-foot-tall atrium orient him and vary his view. Maloney spoke again for the architect: “He didn’t want a box that could be anywhere. He said, ‘I want the people to know they are in New York City.’” North-facing windows frame segments, like Hopper paintings, of the handsome brownstones along West Fifty-fourth Street. On the sixth floor, the top, a wide skylight provides an alarming upward perspective of Cesar Pelli’s fifty-two-story residential tower, erected in 1984 on museum land to one side of the existing museum and now more or less in its center. “Can you imagine,” Maloney asked, “we had to build this with that hanging over us?” He allowed that the tower’s inhabitants had complained of a few jolts and shudders in the three years of construction beneath their feet. But no harm seems to have been done. Engineering miracles are an everyday occurrence in Manhattan. 

The museum has expanded a number of times since its opening day, on November 8, 1929, in a rented space on the twelfth floor of the Heckscher Building, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-seventh Street. In spite of the stock-market crash in progress, the exhibit was so well attended that the building’s other tenants had to fight crowds at the elevators. The seven improvised galleries showed four painters now classified as Post-Impressionist; the Boston Transcript sarcastically put it, “Thursday the newly created Museum of Modern Art opened the doors of its temporary galleries and held a house-warming. The invited guests, besides the usual group of socially elect, were Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, and Van Gogh.” The latter, in fact, attended in force—thirty-five Cézannes, twentysix Gauguins, seventeen Seurats, and twenty-seven van Goghs. In 1932, the thriving museum moved to a five-story town house, owned by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., at 11 West Fifty-third Street, which is still its address. A boxy structure designed as a museum in the International Style by Philip L. Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone replaced it in 1939; this building was added onto in 1951, 1964, and 1984. 

West Fifty-third and Fifty-fourth Streets were residential neighborhoods, with back yards and access alleys; therefore museum expansion, except for the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, worked sideways along Fifty-third Street, and the galleries were strung along a rather narrow and inflexible route. In 1996, the Dorset Hotel (fondly remembered for its exiguous lobby and slow elevators) and several adjacent brownstones on Fifty-third and Fifty-fourth came up for sale, and the museum acquired them, giving it a property stretching from St. Thomas Church, on Fifth Avenue, to the Museum of American Folk Art, a few doors up from Sixth Avenue. A thorough redesign was now possible, and it was entrusted to Taniguchi Associates, a Tokyo firm for whom this was the first international commission. 

The inkling, in the winter of 1928-1929, shared by three well-to-do women (Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Miss Lizzie P. Bliss, and Mrs. Cornelius J. Sullivan), that New York should have a venue for the display of distinctly modern art had in seventy-five years bloomed into a cultural force able to commandeer swaths of midtown real estate and erect new buildings at a cost approaching a billion dollars. The goal for the capital campaign was set at eight hundred and fifty-eight million dollars; more than seven hundred million has already been secured, with the Board of Trustees contributing a total of more than five hundred million. The project included the acquisition, as a temporary exhibition site and a permanent storage and study facility, of the old, hundred-and-sixty-thousand-square-foot staple factory now labelled MoMA QNS. The renovations and new construction at the midtown museum alone came to four hundred and twenty-five million. 

A broad, slightly sloping lobby, paved in green slate, now connects Fifty-third and Fifty-fourth Streets and provides two entrances to the museum. On the eastern side, an eight-story Education and Research Building named for Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman has arisen, and on the western side a thirteen-story tower for offices and galleries. In the middle, the lower seven floors of Pelli’s tall dark tower have been incorporated into the museum. Outside on Fifty-third Street, the façades of the 1939 structure, with its piano-shaped canopy and square windows, and of the 1964 addition by Philip Johnson, whose larger, milled-steel windows have rounded corners, are refurbished and preserved—a satisfying historical touch in an urban environment not given to many such. The buildings, which endow the museum with a midtown presence to rival the Metropolitan’s grand gracing of the upper East Side, defer to their surroundings. Viewed from Fifty-third Street, through the dust and clamor of construction still in progress, the structure behind its medley of façades does not present an arresting silhouette, like Frank Lloyd Wright’s top-shaped Guggenheim or Frank Gehry’s titanium flourish in Bilbao. The new MoMA is not that kind of showpiece. Rather, its six stories of reticent white chambers, tucked under Pelli’s overbearing gray-and-brown glass tower, melt into the cityscape and form, with their treasures, an invisible cathedral. 

It used to be said that airports were our new cathedrals, the spires replaced by ascending and descending planes. But they have become workaday and shabby, cluttered with the machinery of heightened security and menaced by airline bankruptcy—bus terminals on the brink, more like refuse-littered marketplaces than like places of worship. The art museums, once haunted by a few experts, students, and idlers, have become the temples of the Ideal, of the Other, of the something else that, if only for a peaceful moment, redeems our daily getting and spending. Here resides something beyond our frantic animal existence. Leonardo spoke scornfully of those men who do nothing in their time on earth but produce excrement. Art, in its traditional forms of painting, drawing, and sculpture, is a human by-product whose collection, in homes, galleries, and museums, lightens the load, as it were, of life. By its glow we bask in the promise of a brighter, more lasting realm reached by a favored few—St. Vermeer, St. Pollock, St. Leonardo. In Paris and Florence, tourists from Japan come by the busful, pose giggling for a photograph in front of the “Mona Lisa” or “The Birth of Venus,” and hurry on their way, blessed. 

The old European museums are often converted palaces—the former residences of aristocrats whose duty to the masses was, by a curious clause in the social contract, conspicuous expenditure. So, too, their American imitations, monuments to the Mellons and the Fricks and the Havemeyers; the damask-covered walls and carved marble lintels compete, in a general outpouring of luxury, with the incalculably high-priced works on display. Everywhere, moldings, marble, fluted columns; the frames themselves are princely. But a new kind of opulence, submerged in an exquisite modesty, elaborately defers to the art itself. The seven-year-old Beyeler Museum, on the outskirts of Basel, was designed by Renzo Piano with the septuagenarian Mr. Beyeler at his elbow, urging (according to an informal talk he gave to a touring group of which I was a member) less architecture and more focus on his paintings. They are lit with the latest louvred devices and mounted in a structure of noble simplicity, its cost of more than forty million dollars reflected mostly in the fine workmanship and elegant materials. The long low building slips into the watery, suburban landscape like a sword into a green sheath. The reddish porphyry of the walls is, it gave me pleasure to notice, an echo of the local sandstone used to build the medieval Basel cathedral, now a Protestant church with cloisters and a spectacular High Gothic pulpit. 

According to Russell Lynes’s 1973 book, “Good Old Modern: An Intimate Portrait of the Museum of Modern Art,” so-called modern art at the time of the museum’s founding was ill regarded by the public. In 1921, a show of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was greeted, eight years after the notorious Armory Show, with outrage verging on the apoplectic. A four-page printed protest decreed, “This ‘Modernistic’ degenerate cult is simply the Bolshevic philosophy applied to art,” and went on to claim: 

The real cult of “Modernism” began with a small group of neurotic Ego-Maniacs in Paris who styled themselves “Satanists”—worshippers of Satan—the God of Ugliness. 

The Metropolitan did not venture to show modern art soon again, helping create the vacuum that the female founders of MoMA hoped to fill: the Museum of Modern Art has been called “the Metropolitan’s worst mistake.” In 1929, apropos of the infant moma’s inaugural show, Jerome Klein wrote in the Boston Transcript: 

For a number of years the worthy trustees of America’s greatest museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, have been subjected to considerable embarrassment; a great many people have had the bad taste to inquire in the public prints why the competent administrators of the museum have taken no cognizance of the emergence of art in the world of today. . . . The clamor grew and the trustees and their henchmen awoke one day to the horrible discovery that Cézanne and his upstarts had for years been taken up by the best society. 

Now even the hoi polloi accept as obvious the beauty and power of the Post-Impressionists; long lines form at their megashows, and the museum stores do a busy trade in prints, posters, shopping bags, and notepads consecrated with their imagery. Fragileappearing, jokey modernism—its little Cubist canvases and even smaller visual witticisms by Klee, its yellowing collages and deadpan Dada stunts—grew and grew and eventually tore down the Dorset. 

The new building inevitably incorporates modernism’s problematical nature. When does modern art begin? Some say with Manet, and he did, with his individualized nudes in everyday settings, affront the bourgeoisie; but then so did Courbet, who nonetheless belongs to the old dispensation. The Impressionists were revolutionaries, and we still inhabit their revolution. But MoMA began with the Post-Impressionists, and they make a good starting point, around 1880. Their modernism has a theoretical, abstractifying bent and a determined individuality of style, so that no mature artist can be confused with another, as a Monet might be with a Pissarro. Though the Post-Impressionists still represent the visible world, the reproduction of natural appearances is no longer the heart of the game. We like them because, after centuries of shadowy, complicated illusionism, they used bold colors and simplified shapes. We value them for the resistance they met, and they earn our love with their suffering—van Gogh in the insane asylum, Gauguin adrift in the high seas, Seurat dying young, Cézanne plodding to the easel day after day in eremitic isolation. All of them died before their immortality was widely acknowledged. 

And when will modern art end? Robert Hughes, in “The Shock of the New,” muscularly argues that it died around 1970, with Andy Warhol’s anomic embrace of “business art” and the passing of the concept of the avant-garde. By the seventies, a persuasive cultural permissiveness made a cutting edge impossible; suddenly, after Action painting, Pop, Op, color-field, and minimalism, art ran out of nameable movements. There was no more “modern”; there was just “contemporary.” Glenn D. Lowry, moma’s director since 1995, addresses in a thoughtful essay the museum’s history and its situation—doubled attendance, proliferating collections—prior to Taniguchi’s twenty-first-century expansion: 

A number of options were available, from ceasing to collect contemporary art altogether—never a serious possibility—to establishing a separate museum for contemporary art, which, however, in establishing a division between the earliest and the most recent works in the collection, would have created more problems than it solved. 

The new museum’s layout is open-ended, with a double-height, column-free space set aside on the reinforced second floor for contemporary art—its sheets of warped steel, its mountains of bricks or tin cans or lavender Teddy bears, its mazy installations and messy assemblages. Whatever contemporary art is not (pleasurable, say, or exquisite), it is big, and Taniguchi has created a giant room for it, stealing height from the floor above and providing a sliding door whereby oversized sculpture can be gantried in from the street. What is left of the third floor contains galleries for photographs, drawings, and architecture and design. The next floor up, the fourth, is intended for work, such as the large canvases of the Abstract Expressionists, from the postwar period to 1970, and the fifth, accessible via a grand staircase, will shelter the relatively handy works of classic modernism, from the end of the nineteenth century. The sixth floor is reserved for special exhibitions, to which escalators and elevators are expected to carry the multitudes. 

The first floor will hold, besides the entry lobby and the desks for admission and membership, the commercial enterprises increasingly conspicuous among a museum’s attractions, the bookstore/shop and the restaurant—restaurants, in this case, fancy in proportion to their nearness to the Sculpture Garden. Farther from it is the bar and the bar food, in a space fittingly named for the museum’s first director, Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Then there is, with a close view of the garden and, in season, some outdoor tables, the restaurant de résistance, bluntly called the Modern and generalled by a name chef, Gabriel Kreuther, sprung from the Ritz-Carlton on Central Park South. All eating places (and there are more, on the second and fifth floors) will be operated by Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group. The first-floor establishments will be entered by a kind of speakeasy entrance from noon until as late as eleven-thirty; one looks forward to a heist movie in which Robert De Niro and George Clooney sneak upstairs from their 11 p.m. espresso and brandy to appropriate some Picassos and Brancusis. And, oh yes—the Sculpture Garden, wider and longer, has been born again with new young trees to replace the birches and beeches that had been getting too shaggy anyway. 

The cathedral stands ready for the faithful. Here they come: the slow-footed tourists, foreign and domestic; the suburban adventuresses in for lunch; the Brearley seniors with their spiral-bound sketchbooks and their flaxen tresses; the semi-unshaven East Village youth, two years out of Podunk, looking for an art fix even if it means sitting through Andy Warhol’s static epic “Empire.” A few pilgrims, perhaps, will turn back from the counter when they are told that the admission fee is twenty dollars and a mere twelve and sixteen, respectively, for students and sixty-five-and-overs who have the I.D.s to prove it. But a balcony seat at a failing Broadway musical costs three times that, and MoMA floor space has been increased by almost half again, from eighty-five thousand square feet to a hundred and twenty-five thousand. 

Is more truly more? MoMA, which I first visited in the late nineteen-forties, was a relatively intimate collection of human-scale works in non-palatial rooms. Picasso’s “Guernica,” on loan to keep it away from Franco, and Rousseau’s “Sleeping Gypsy” were the biggest canvases in sight; Baziotes, Dubuffet, and Peter Blume were the latest things on the walls. You could hustle through it in an hour or two, on a one-way route. With the expansion of 1964, which added the great Picasso-Matisse room, some choices for ambulation were offered; but it was still, on the second floor, a single experience. Now four floors, plus soundproof galleries for video and media, beckon from all sides. One of the charms of a museum for modern art was that there wasn’t too much of it, just as a lifetime of history wasn’t too much. After seventy-five years, a life is a stretch and the cathedral may have too many chapels. “Nous verrons,” as Cézanne might remark, squinting toward Mont Sainte-Victoire. We shall see.