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The Art’s the Star: The New Old MoMA in New York

For nine months, the MoMA made a guest appearance in Berlin’s New National Gallery. Now, following two years of construction in Manhattan, New York’s Museum of Modern Art has reopened. The newly erected structure, designed by the architect Yoshio Taniguchi, subordinates itself to the outstanding art collection, and for the first time there’s enough room to show a greater number of large-scale works and conceptual art. But the Modernist classics still preside above it all on the fifth floor – Christian Schaernack took a look around the new MoMA for db-artmag.

The Museum of Modern Art,
designed by Yoshio Taniguchi.
Entrance at 53rd Street
©2004 Timothy Hursley

The one-liner on the posters announcing the reopening of the Museum of Modern Art is clear, yet subtle: "New York is Modern Again." A claim to absoluteness lies concealed within this tactful understatement; as a message, it reveals an agenda.

Without a doubt, the gigantic construction site on 53rd Street created a vacuum at the center of New York’s art cosmos. The wrecking balls first arrived in 1999; three years later, at the beginning of the feverish construction phase, large portions of the world-famous collection were stored in a temporary branch in the neighboring borough of Queens. The city’s remaining art institutions didn’t even come close to filling the gap – in the Metropolitan Museum, the 20th century is represented only marginally, while the Whitney’s program is purely American.

Henri Matisse: Dance (1), 1909
©2004 Timothy Hursley

The MoMA is, quite simply, unique with its Demoiselles d’Avignon, Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie-Woogie, the many Pollocks, Roy Lichtenstein’s Drowning Girl, Andy Warhol’s golden Marilyn , and Pininfarina’s red-hot Ferrari from the design section. Hardly ever before has the building of a museum become the subject of such intense discussion ahead of time, and the sense of expectation has never before been so keen. New Yorkers love their MoMA, an institution whose 75-year success story is more or less symbiotically interwoven with the city’s rise to a modern metropolis and the self-proclaimed "Cultural Capital of the 20th Century."

The Philip Johnson Architecture and Design Galleries,
with Ferrari by Pininfarina © 2004 Timothy Hursley

Was the wait worth it? What does a museum look like that swallows up over 850 million dollars, half of which went to building costs? And what does the visitor get for his record-breaking entrance fee of 20 dollars? A museum that has more than anything else remained true to itself. The MoMA has long since become a "conservative" institution. And ever since mid-November, whoever hasn’t noticed this can find proof of it on the six stories and over 700,000 square feet of the new Museum of Modern Art, designed by the Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi.

Ellsworth Kelly:
Sculpture for a Large Wall, 104 aluminium panels 1957
©2004 Ellsworth Kelly

New York obviously balked at jumping on the latest express train by resisting "event architecture" à la Libeskind, Gehry & Co. and even the plans of stars the likes of Rem Koolhaas or the Swiss team of Jacques Herzog & Pierre de Meuron. In contrast, the 67 year-old Taniguchi, who became known through his elegant museum buildings in Tokyo, Kakegawa, and Kyoto, masterfully integrated his design into the surrounding city context and subordinated it to the collection inside. The contents alone are what count: this was the motto, which happily distanced itself from the magical architectonic tricks of certain individuals. And in any case: there’s far too much pride in the museum’s inimitable collection to allow it to take second billing in the shadow of an over-powerful architecture.

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