For the last four months, New York City’s Museum of Modern Art – the most-visited modern art museum in the country – has been closed for a highly-anticipated expansion. For art lovers, those months may have seemed like an eternity.
But behind the scenes, the clock is ticking on the late-October re-opening.
“We are gonna open on time,” said MoMA’s director Glenn Lowry. “You know, one of the things that I’ve come to learn is that these types of projects come together in the last minutes. So, we will open on time, and it will look fantastic.”
The “New MoMA” is set to open October 21. Estimated to cost $450 million, the makeover will include an entire new wing, increasing the museum’s gallery space by nearly 30 percent. That means space for about one thousand additional pieces of art.
“For me, what’s so exciting is that there were two museums when I arrived here 25 years ago,” said Lowry. “There was the museum that was on display, and there was the museum that was in storage. And they were unrelated. And now what we’ve done is to bring those two museums together, so the museum on display much better reflects that museum that was in storage.”
The Museum of Modern Art first opened its doors back in 1929. Its mission: to showcase modern and contemporary art. During those 90 years, it’s been through eight major renovations, the last one just 15 years ago. “Sunday Morning” covered that, too, with Morley Safer as our guide:
Today, architect Liz Diller told correspondent Serena Altschul that, as a student, “I cut school all the time to come here and get a new education!”
She’s spent a lifetime visiting MoMA. Now her firm, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, is helping write the museum’s next chapter. Her goal: make the museum more inviting. That involved opening up the lobby, and moving the museum store down one level, with the entrance much more pronounced:
“This will be just full of natural light coming in,” she said. “And the store is actually bigger. So, even though it’s below the ground, it takes advantage of all this natural light – we have this fantastic visibility between the street and the lobby.”
Attention was paid to every detail, even the stairwell that connects the old and new building: “It’s very interesting because staircases are notoriously boomy, and loud,” she said.
The stairwells are lined with wood panels that are micro-perforated: “Tiny little perforations on these panels allow the sound to be absorbed, partially, by the panels themselves. Usually wood reflects the sound; here, it’s absorbing.”
Of course, the building isn’t the only thing getting spruced up. Over the past few months, each and every piece of art was removed from the walls. Masterpieces have been cleaned and touched up; galleries completely reorganized.
Lowry said, “We used to be a museum made up of individual departments, and those departments were dislocated from each other. Now we’ve brought everything together under one circuit, so that you’ll see photography and film and architecture and design and painting and sculpture and new media, all together, in a new way that feels much more whole and, I think, real.”
New acquisitions are also on display, like a massive Richard Serra sculpture.
“Each column is actually 80 tons,” said Lowry.
“How did you get it in here, really?” asked Altschul.
“It was an engineering miracle. First of all, we had to engineer these floors before we even began construction to support such an extraordinary weight.”
The museum will also increase the number of works by female artists – five times as many before.
One piece on view for the first time is by Indian artist Mrinalini Mukherjee, who came to prominence in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.
And the mission of the “New MoMA” to showcase more art doesn’t stop there.
“Every six months we’ll turn over a third total of our collection galleries,” said curator Sarah Suzuki, who is in charge of the opening.
Altschul asked, “Do you have to shut the whole museum down for another four months? What does it take to switch it over?”
“It is a big job, Serena. But if you come to MoMA in those moments, you might not even realize. Because there will be so much else on view and so much else going on here.”
Yes, there most certainly is a lot going on. Plenty is new about this “New MoMA,” even if it is just a matter of time before an even newer one comes along.
Lowry said, “We’ve probably pushed the footprint as broadly as we can. But 10, 15, 20 years from now when a new generation of curators needs to change the footprint of the galleries, we will find the way to make that happen.”
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Story produced by Sara Kugel.
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