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This New House

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Safe choices are as liable to create controversy as bold ones. The museum, for instance, just purchased Gordon Matta-Clark’s Bingo. “Why are they buying Gordon Matta-Clark twenty years late?” asks Romy Golan, a professor at the cuny Graduate Center. “It’s all late, late, late. They are becoming like the Getty.” Another historian suggested that the emphasis, in early press, on the museum’s ability to show a multiton Richard Serra indicated similarly out-of-date priorities—like Matta-Clark, he’s already in the canon.

Golan believes MoMA, which she loves, has abandoned its taste-making role by abandoning thematic shows after the disastrous “High and Low” of 1990 and by focusing on its own single-artist retrospectives. “If they have a brief, that should be to rewrite the history of the last 30 years. They can do work on contemporary art, but it doesn’t have to be from the last five minutes.”

“Artists are usually most interesting in mid-career, in their forties, fifties,” says David Zwirner, of the eponymous gallery, who sold the Matta-Clark to the museum. “MoMA has traditionally done the late-career retrospective, like Richter. I am hoping for more of a focus on artists in the middle of their careers.”

Many believe the museum’s smartest move was to buy the Swingline stapler factory in Sunnyside. It is to the boroughs that the younger generations are going to make and sell art; MoMA and P.S. 1 are planning a second Greater New York show for 2005. “The center of gravity in the art world is shifting east,” says design and bookstore architect Richard Gluckman, whose first job in New York, 27 years ago, was working with Dan Flavin. “This next generation, a lot of it’s going to come out of Brooklyn and Queens.”

Is There Life Beyond Art?
As construction got under way in 2001, the museum began to think about other design projects that might fit within Taniguchi’s new walls. The museum’s logo got freshened. Canadian megadesigner Bruce Mau came in to consult about the museum’s new signage, while hip title designers Imaginary Forces were asked to invent a new interface for the monitors that will provide information to patrons in the lobby.

And Lowry and Riley cooked up another set of short lists, one for a restaurateur for the museum’s restaurant and cafeteria, the other for the architect who would revamp the museum’s bookstore. “It is in keeping with Taniguchi’s original concept of the building as an urban plan,” says Riley. “It’s almost like a small portion of a city, where, of course, there are different architects doing their thing.”

Danny Meyer, who’s running the museum’s new restaurant, The Modern, certainly believes that his involvement was fate. “The idea to do this actually came to me from the late Paul Gottleib,” he says. “Paul was a trustee for many, many years at MoMA. One day, he came to me and said, ‘You must, I repeat, you must get your name in the running for this restaurant.’ ”

The restaurant’s furniture, place settings, and ornaments will, as in the rest of the museum, be dominated by Danish design, with benches by Poul Kjaerholm (who seems to be the new Eames), mixed with some by Florence Knoll for weary gallerygoers.

The final curated aspect was the food. Meyer remembered his parents’ MoMA calendars featuring Josef Albers. “I think of the Bauhaus movement, which makes me think of the eastern part of Western Europe and Bayer and Albers,” he says. He chose Gabriel Kreuther, from Alsace, to be the chef.

Richard Gluckman, of Gluckman Mayner Architects, designer of the Dia:Chelsea and Helmut Lang store in Soho, took Taniguchi’s design as his jumping-off point, re-creating his palette in a dizzying variety of materials, with graphics by cutting-edge Dutch designer Paul Mijksenaar. The 6,000-square-foot retail store is under the new roof, paralleling Taniguchi’s block-long lobby and creating an indoor retail street. Gluckman is best known for his creation of Chelsea’s gallery style with the renovation of industrial spaces into the Dia and Larry Gagosian and Paula Cooper galleries. He continues to have a close relationship with artists, which makes him a perfect go-between for the curated shop and the curated gallery. When I asked him whether working for MoMA, where every item in the store is subject to curatorial review, was different from his other shopping designs, he laughed. “When we started doing retail, we started at the top with Versace and Helmut Lang. These clients were fairly intense about their own curatorial imperative, so that’s one thing that’s consistent.”

What’s MoMA Now?
Collectors of art who believed in art not as an entertainment enterprise, and not as a business, but as a truly important kind of thing began to feel like dinosaurs after Bilbao,” says Terry Riley. “What people will see here is this unexpected thing, that a museum can be a great place for art and also be unbelievably dynamic and spectacular. This ran contrary to the accepted wisdom in the art world, which was that you either had a building that was a work of art unto itself or you had a nothing, neutral piece of architecture. I think what Taniguchi’s building does is blow that up a little bit and say ‘Sorry, those aren’t the only two choices.’ ”

I am standing in what will be the Museum of Modern Art’s new Architecture and Design galleries, trying to get a sense of what the eight-year process accomplished. In the old Modern, the views were all north. In the new Modern, you can see north and east through floor-to-ceiling glass. South, too, through heavily darkened view panels in some of the galleries. Manhattan is never far away. “I wanted to provide the visitors with a sense of place—the experience of viewing MoMA’s collection on their home turf,” Taniguchi says.

On 53rd Street, Taniguchi had to contend with the ghosts of MoMAs past. I think part of what won him the competition was a graceful sketch of all the 53rd Street façades reduced to their gridlike essences, with his addition (hopefully labeled “1999”) tucked in between 1984 and something extra for 2010. Another sketch, labeled “the diversity and abundance of what has been accumulated,” added the profile of St. Thomas to the mix, so that its carillon can be read as a miniature museum tower, and the rest of the buildings like a consistent roofline of rowhouses.

The sketches showed that Taniguchi understood exactly what he was getting into—Manhattan, in all its complexity—and how to make his building make sense of all the others—a Utopian view of a heterotopian situation. Another way of saying this is that the new MoMA is a question, sublimely unanswered.

The Making of the MoMA
A Gallery of New Acquisitions


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