The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in the heart of Manhattan Island in New York City has added over 3,700 square metres to its footprint in a much-anticipated step. The gallery, which is widely respected as one of the most influential institutions in the museum sector across the globe, has been closed to the public since June 2019 when its plans first began to take shape.
The gallery has now shown off its new space to a selected guest list with the entire place due to reopen to the public in late October. The management team has spent nearly half a billion dollars on the project making it one of the most expensive in the sector for a number of years. Are the results worth it.
What Is New at MoMA?
In summary, MoMA has expanded its gallery space meaning that it can display much more of the art it has in its collection. What’s more, the extremely popular museum and gallery will be able to accept more visitors even at peak times which, in all likelihood, make it even more in demand among New York’s residents and tourists. Over the course of the last decade or so, visitor numbers have hovered around the three million mark, meaning that it sometimes feels crowded. The extra space will, it is hoped, provide a superior visitor experience because attendees will not feel so hemmed in by others.
Of course, the altered space has not merely allowed MoMA’s professionals to show more of the art it holds in its collection but to reinterpret its presentation. This has been referred to by some curators at the gallery as ‘remixing’ its installations which consist of contemporary paintings, sculptures, design work, drawings, photographs, prints and illustrated books as well as film, video installations and other electronic media artworks. Glenn D Lowry, who represents one of the big trusts that support MoMA as a David Rockefeller director, said that the remix of the gallery’s works of art would be beneficial for all future visitors. “The real value of the expanded gallery is not more room,” he said, “but that more space will allow us to rethink the experience of art within the context of the museum.”
A big part of the expansion project is MoMA’s augmented ground floor area which will feature free street-level galleries. This is an important aspect of the revamped museum which traditionally has kept its admission as low as it deemed to be feasible as a non-profit institution. Following its public reopening, MoMA will be free to attend on Friday afternoons, as it has been for some time thanks to a corporate sponsorship programme, but its ticket prices are planned to increase to as much as $25 per adult attendee with reductions for seniors, disabled people and students. The fact that some, if not all of MoMA’s impressive collection will be freely accessible to passers-by who may not be fans of modern art will better connect the museum to the community, so the gallery’s directors claim.
In addition to the new gallery spaces, the expansion project has allowed MoMA to introduce a new experimental zone which is given over to the exploration of ideas that come about from experiencing the gallery’s collection and its exhibitions. This space will be known as the Paula and James Crown Creativity Lab and will be a big part of the museum’s new offering. The Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Studio has also had a significant makeover which means that it has been developed into a space for live performances that will feature some experimental programming. In addition, MoMA has launched a larger gallery shop and has significant plans to generate more revenue from it. There is also a new dining space which will be open for more hours than the gallery’s former facility.
Reaction to the Expanded Gallery
The extension to MoMA was principally planned by architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who worked in collaboration with Gensler, a global design firm. When the project was first announced, it came in for some criticism because it meant that the site of the American Folk Art Museum would need to be completely altered in order to make way for the expanded contemporary art gallery. At that time, Liz Diller, a partner at the main architectural firm behind the project, said that she understood why people were against the idea. “We would be on the same side if we did not know all of the details,” she said in 2014.
Now that the project has been delivered, many of the dissenting voices have been less vocal, largely down to the success of the design work that has gone into the project. According to Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the street-level galleries have been a key part of this success. “The design optimised the current spaces of the gallery,” the architectural firm said in a statement. According to the design team, this meant that the whole museum is now able to be more flexible and technologically sophisticated. For example, the architects were able to expand and open up the main lobby of the gallery to make a light-filled and space at double the previous height. Crucially, this area now connects seamlessly to the street, located in Midtown Manhattan between West 53rd and 54th Streets. Several architectural commentators have noted that these spaces have created a number of new circulation routes which offer visitors the opportunity to pause and reflect.
Writing in the New Yorker magazine, Peter Schjeldahl said that the reconfiguration of the museum was, in his view, “all in all, terrific.” He went on to add that the gallery’s remix allowed curators to stitch works of art together that had previously been presented in segregated mediums. “Graphic art, photography, design, books, [as well as]… painting and sculpture come off pleasantly,” he said before noting that MoMA owns many gems in all of these fields. Michael Kimmelman, reviewing the expanded museum in the New York Times, admitted that he had doubts about the new galleries when they were initially announced. “They seemed a vague excuse to [borrow space but]… they turned out to be one of the best parts of the project,” he said.
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.