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The Museum With a Bulldozer’s Heart
January 18, 2014 3:58 PM   Subscribe

The Museum of Modern Art’s announcement on January 8 that it will indeed tear down Tod Williams and Billie Tsien’s American Folk Art Museum building of 1997–2001 felt like hearing that a relative or close friend had finally succumbed to an incurable disease. Even though the outcome had been expected, it was a shock nonetheless.
"MoMA Loses Face": Martin Filler decries the museum's expansion plan in the NYRB.
The whole layout and concept of the museum must be reconsidered from scratch, which goes beyond architecture to the institution’s mind-set. MoMA is now as jammed and joyless as the Van Wyck Expressway on a Friday in July. That’s not because it is a victim of its own success; it’s because the museum is a victim of its own philosophy. This is not just nostalgia talking.
Michael Kimmelman condemns the plan in the Times.
There’s a timely logic to institutional trashings of the unrelaxed, unopen, and precious, in line with recent installation and performance art. The popularity, relative cheapness, and space- and calendar-filling efficiency of such works have inspired museum administrators to recast art as a service industry, bent on entertaining a customer who is always right.
Peter Schjeldahl eulogizes the Folk Art Museum building in The New Yorker.
posted by RogerB (85 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
A ticket to MOMA costs $25. Twenty Five American Dollars.
posted by gwint at 4:27 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, the idea of endlessly building, then tearing down, then building a new art museum in the same location seems like the ultimate conceptual art piece / End of Rome era New York City.
posted by gwint at 4:31 PM on January 18 [4 favorites]


So they are tearing down a perfectly good building to build another building? This one is only 17 years old? What a waste.

A ticket to MOMA costs $25. Twenty Five American Dollars.

It's probably mostly tourists. I'd not hesitate to pay that much. Of course I wouldn't be going that often.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:33 PM on January 18


Yeah, even if it weren't a really interesting looking building (and Modern Art in and of itself) --even were it just a glass box of slightly different proportions from the last week's glass box and next week's glass box--to tear down a unique building that young is, simply, gobsmackingly wasteful.

Twenty-five dollars a head has to be justified somehow, I guess.
posted by notsnot at 4:46 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


Holy shit, they literally just opened the new MoMA expansion ten years ago. The building they're tearing down is less than 20 years old.

I know this will involve a lot of bureaucracy and huge organizations like this move very slowly. So for all I know this is something they have planned for 2030 or something?

But jeez, MoMA, slow your roll. Also, LBR, the current iteration of MoMA is exactly the perfect size for a museum.

Re the $25 price tag, that's typical for a museum on MoMA's scale nowadays. I was at LACMA a couple weeks ago and it was either $15 or $18, I forget. And (not to ignite a NY vs. LA war) LACMA is nothing remotely comparable to MoMA.

And, yes, it is mostly geared toward tourists. When I worked at MoMA, the memberships were very reasonable: if you visit more than two or three times a year it pays for itself, and membership comes with a lot of perks. Not to mention it's tax deductible and a worthy cause to support.
posted by Sara C. at 5:05 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


On the other hand, when I went to the Folk Art museum, I thought it was pretty weak as such things go. I'm not sure if their collection isn't very impressive or they simply can't display much of it, but either the Folk Art Museum needs to call it a day and move to more modest digs or get a bigger space that can do the art justice. The building isn't objectively ugly from the outside, but it's a terrible showcase for the work.
posted by Sara C. at 5:13 PM on January 18


Nevermind, I'm referring to the old building (the one MoMA plans to demolish), which apparently has not been the home of the Folk Art Museum since 2011.

All the more reason to tear it down, and I can only hope the new space near Lincoln Center suits the collection better.
posted by Sara C. at 5:15 PM on January 18


MOMA Inc. It's a shame about the Folk Art Museum, but I can't say it comes as a surprise.
posted by R. Mutt at 5:16 PM on January 18


The facade of the Folk Art Museum is amazing. The space behind it was terrible for displaying art. It's just not a very good museum space and I'm not surprised it's going.

This isn't to say the MoMA folk don't have an irrational hate-on for the Folk Art Museum-- by all accounts, they do-- but there's a whole lot of backseat architecting going on in those links.
posted by phooky at 5:18 PM on January 18 [5 favorites]


Fridays afternoons still seem to be free at MOMA. But now they call it "UNIQLO Free Friday Nights" instead of just "pay as you wish."
posted by b1tr0t at 5:24 PM on January 18


They've been "TARGET Free Friday Nights" since the renovations a decade ago. And it's not "pay as you wish", it's free. Packed, but honestly when I went on Friday nights I was always happy to see how many people in New York are excited to look at great art. Unlike the snobs at the New Yorker I don't think a crowded museum can ever be a bad thing, even if it's personally inconvenient.
posted by Sara C. at 5:28 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


The old Folk Art Museum was a joy. I loved the weird verticalness of it. Something about the way you moved through the space, especially the way you went down stairs in what seemed like hidden back corners of the galleries, made you constantly feel you were coming around a corner and discovering the objects there.

That said, I don't think most people liked it as much as I did, because nobody was ever in there, and I'm not surprised they couldn't make it financially make sense. I'm not sure how much of this is the building and how much the art -- the outsider art section of the Art Institute of Chicago, which is great, is also always empty, even when the rest of the museum is packed. Maybe this is just a genre of art that is never going to be that popular, but which museums will continue to display just because it's a part of our cultural heritage that deserves to be remembered and that's what museums do.

But thanks, New York, for building a museum exactly the way I like, and keeping it open for a decade so I could go a few times.
posted by escabeche at 5:30 PM on January 18 [6 favorites]


I was only there once. Actually got drawn in because it was lunchtime and they had a cafe that looked low hassle. It was a wonderful surprise.
posted by mikelieman at 5:38 PM on January 18


If you live in NYC and like going to MoMa or PS1, membership is only $85 (down to $70/person if you can find a pal.) It's a pretty good deal if you want to check it out a few times a year. It's also tax-deductible since it's a non-profit. It's also pretty nice to just be able to go whenever without feeling like you spent a bunch of money and need to get the right amount out of it.
posted by !Jim at 6:09 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


I love folk art, but didn't love this building which took up a lot more foreground than I wanted. I know it's an architect's wet dream - craft, materials, quirkiness, obsession, investigation, honesty. Hey, they succeeded. They worked it out to the degree that it was half their show. No tears from me on seeing this building croak. And few sympathies for my countryman that pretty much never gave a shit about the art that was in there. Just not quite the right time or place for that. Of course, that's why it's folk art, and barely on the radar screen except for some Howard Finster burp. I don't care what it becomes - whatever it becomes, the art in it was better than what was there, or will be put there. And the architects can do their grief/protest poetry process, while the rest hit the reset button.
posted by wallstreet1929 at 6:22 PM on January 18


The main problem with Folk Art is that it's insanely over-valued, and yet average people have almost no interest in it. Especially in New York, where the Folk Art Museum gets lost in the crowd. And the real estate is outrageous, and the architectural expectations are much higher.

The smart thing to do would be to find a large-ish tourist city somewhere in the middle of the country where real estate is cheap and people would actually be in the mood to look at folk art. The American Folk Art Museum would be one of the major tourist attractions in St. Louis or Kansas City, and a museum there would be much cheaper to run.
posted by Sara C. at 6:34 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


The smart thing to do would be to find a large-ish tourist city somewhere in the middle of the country where real estate is cheap and people would actually be in the mood to look at folk art.

There's a fine permanent exhibit at The High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA
posted by mikelieman at 6:42 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


saltz and smith have spent a lot of time arguing that folk and outsider art categories are ones that seperate work on basis of class among other things. art is art. i think it's an interesting idea. i also think the building spends alot of time thinking about and working thru how a building and a collection can work together, how one can add to another, the glass box atrium model does not solve the real estate versus collections problem, but since art is now entirely capital, i doubt it is supposed to. one of the reasons why folk/outsider art isn't taken seriously, is b/c it is both democratic and cheap. you can as worthwhile, as good as anyone else in the 20th century (Darger, Ramierez, Scott, Wolffi), and it keeps being treated as a bastard child, this is so symbolic and it pisses me off.
posted by PinkMoose at 6:51 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


The American Folk Art Museum would be one of the major tourist attractions in St. Louis or Kansas City

The American Visionary Art Museum already is one of the major tourist attractions in Baltimore, and it is a great place indeed, if you're into this kind of thing.
posted by escabeche at 7:01 PM on January 18 [8 favorites]


I'm aware that there are other outsider art museums in other cities.

I'm talking about this particular museum moving to a different city.

There's no real reason New York City needs to have a Folk Art museum.

(I also share PinkMoose's reservations about the biases inherent in the "Folk Art" descriptor, and there's always been something vaguely, I don't know, colonialist, maybe, about the idea of a bunch of New York curators taking all this work out of its original context and throwing it into a closet in Manhattan where it can't even be properly appreciated.)
posted by Sara C. at 7:50 PM on January 18


So they are tearing down a perfectly good building to build another building?

There are really good reasons why they weren't able to functionally integrate the existing building with the Folk Art building. I read about it, I've been involved in some similar structural-integration issues (though not as high-ticket nor as contested), and I'm convinced that they couldn't make it work - floors on different levels, entirely different utility systems, inability to display art at what's currently the industry standard for climate control, vertical room height, etc.

There's something about these kinds of attacks I find lame and vicious. It seems to reflect a general distrust/knee-jerk criticism for some of the realities involved in just the enterprise of running an art museum - and this happens to be one of the world's greatest. And it's bursting at the seams. It's overcrowded in there on even the quietest Tuesday, and they have almost no reasonable functional or performance space, which sidelines them in terms of much of what's being done in contemporary art. They need an expansion to fulfill their mission, they're capable of raising the funds to do it, and they couldn't make the Folk Art work. It's enough; it's a perfectly acceptable decision.

Note on admissions: $25 admission puts MOMA in the country's top tier of admissions pricing, with places like the MFA and Guggenheim and Frick and Whitney and Art Institute of Chicago. MOMA needs to depend a bit more on ticket price as an offset to operating costs than other museums do. And yet it's packed; a market argument would suggest admission is too low - cheaper than the New York Sky Ride, Empire STate Observation Deck, or a Circle Line Cruise. But if the price tag seems high, and you'd go four times a year, an individual membership is only $85.
posted by Miko at 8:16 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


The NYT has an article (with the headline Building Faces Wrecking Ball. So Does Couples’ Friendship.) about the interpersonal consequences of the decision for the two architect couples involved: Billie Tsien and Tod Williams (the American Folk Art Museum designers) and Liz Diller and Ricardo Scofidio (the architects who recommended its demolition and will be designing its replacement):
Two celebrated architect couples, whose careers took off almost simultaneously in the hothouse of New York City design and who supported each other’s successes, are barely on speaking terms. ... That the two couples were friends, dined together, traveled to Africa together and shared similar histories — both pairs met their spouses through architecture and then became professional partners — only makes it that much more complicated. ... Henry Smith-Miller, an architect who studied with Mr. Williams at Princeton, said the fallout resembled “Greek drama.”
[via Chicago architecture critic Lynn Becker's Facebook page]
posted by orthicon halo at 8:41 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


> There's something about these kinds of attacks I find lame and vicious.

Perhaps you might want to look a little harder about what people are actually saying before indulging in the personal attacks?

A lot of people, myself included, react extremely negatively to conspicuous and huge displays of waste. We have a building that was put up just over ten years ago, cost tens of millions of dollars, and is universally recognized as a work of art, receiving numerous awards. And now it's going to be torn down and rebuilt at extremely great expense.

Note the Times' article's quote: "Architects say they cannot recall an instance when one set of architects took down another’s celebrated building just a few years after it went up." This isn't common practice - and that's a good thing.

Look at the reasons you're quoting:

> floors on different levels, entirely different utility systems, inability to display art at what's currently the industry standard for climate control, vertical room height, etc.

All but one of these reasons basically say, "We can't make combine this existing building and our current huge building into one super-huge, homogeneous building." But why, exactly, do they need to do this? MOMA already has more than one space. Is the need to stuff everything into one great building really worth spending a hundred million dollars (my best guess as to the cost of this whole thing once it's all said and done)?

Now, there's this one reason: "inability to display art at what's currently the industry standard for climate control" - I'd be very interested to hear more about this, particularly when comparing that building (designed as an art museum, and to my only-slightly-knowledgeable eye seemingly very functional in that regard) to PS1 (designed as a school, and still having much the same layout, ceiling height, windows and all).

Searching that claim found nothing - indeed, this very Mefi article appears close to the top of most searches. It's a little difficult, pending any hard evidence, to believe that this building was designed to a decade ago as a museum, won numerous awards, but now is so obsolete at protecting works of art that it has to be torn down. I'd really welcome any sort of link proving this.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:12 AM on January 19 [3 favorites]


But why, exactly, do they need to do this?

Because the building has stood empty for the last three years and is unsuited to any use MoMA could possibly put it to.

Having actually been inside the Folk Art Museum, I don't know why the interior layout was designed the way it was, but it's a terrible showcase for art of any kind. It didn't do justice to the collection of the Folk Art Museum, and it would be completely unusable for MoMA.

If for some reason the building were landmarked and they were required to keep it as is, I could see them using that building for office space and converting some of the MoMA office space into gallery or performance space. Or maybe moving the photography, video art, illustration, and book art collections there? But it's not an ideal situation, and well, if it makes sense to tear down a building because it isn't suitable for its intended use, so be it.
posted by Sara C. at 10:53 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]


Sara C.: "I don't know why the interior layout was designed the way it was, but it's a terrible showcase for art of any kind. It didn't do justice to the collection of the Folk Art Museum, and it would be completely unusable for MoMA."

Completely unusable for MoMA? That's pretty short-sighted of them, you'd think they would be able to think a little more creatively about getting more value from the investment in architecture, rather than discarding a 10-year-old building as if it's a used coffee cup.

It's not as if they're planning to add very much gallery space. From the second link:

"MoMA’s expansion into the former Folk Art footprint will give it another 40,000 square feet, but only about 38 percent—15,500 square feet—will be designated for art display, with the remaining 24,500 square feet devoted to other uses."
posted by desuetude at 12:05 PM on January 19


Correction: 13-year old building.
posted by desuetude at 12:11 PM on January 19


You get that MoMA didn't build this building, right? The Folk Art Museum commissioned the building. That the building is not suited to MoMA's collection or mission is not MoMA's fault.

Re the breakdown of gallery space vs. "other uses", museums do things other than display art in galleries. It's likely they want to build new spaces for performance, as Miko said upthread. There are also archives, storage*, various facilities for museum guests, etc.

*A lot of modern/contemporary art is extremely large and has moving, storage, and installation needs that are more complex than, say, a Grandma Moses painting.
posted by Sara C. at 12:20 PM on January 19


the building is not suited to MoMA's collection or mission

Just asserting this over and over, as if no one could possibly disagree, doesn't actually make it so; indeed, the opinion of architecture critics and art writers who've weighed in on MoMA's plans has been almost unanimously to the contrary, so I'm honestly not sure where you're even getting this. As Filler's piece (you know, the main link in the post?) says, for instance, the Folk Art building would've made a fantastic home for the recently acquired Frank Lloyd Wright archive — if the decision were really about art and architecture, that is, rather than real estate and rapacity:
Moreover, although the Folk Art spaces could have been continuously incorporated into adjacent MoMA interiors, there was no imperative need to do this. The imperiled building could have been preserved intact and profitably readapted, say, to house the museum’s recent acquisition (jointly held with Columbia University’s Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library) of the Taliesin Foundation’s peerless Frank Lloyd Wright archive, an especially appropriate reuse given the structure’s paucity of windows and light-control requirements for works on paper.
posted by RogerB at 12:35 PM on January 19


> Because the building has stood empty for the last three years and is unsuited to any use MoMA could possibly put it to.

I also have been in the Folk Art Museum, and I liked the space a lot. I liked the interior layout - the fact that the rooms aren't super-huge is a positive feature, not a negative one - and these aren't cramped rooms at all, they simply aren't on the gargantuan scale of modern MOMA.

In particular, I really can't see how PS1 is not inferior in every way to the Folk Art Museum. If PS1 was suitable to MOMA's needs, why not this building?

It's hard not to see this as a great waste. I do honestly feel that when this culture is described in the history books, this sort of thing will be a great astonishment to the people of the future. ("Let me get this straight - they'd build a huge, beautiful building in the most expensive city in the world, and then tear it down ten years later because they decided they didn't like it?")
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:39 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


I'm honestly not sure where you're even getting this.

I've visited both museums and worked at MoMA for a while.

would've made a fantastic home for the recently acquired Frank Lloyd Wright archive

But what if MoMA has other priorities for the space besides the Frank Lloyd Wright archive?

I agree that it could work as an annex for works on paper (photography, illustration), but that's not a part of the collection that MoMA particularly emphasizes. It seems odd to completely rehab a building for a use that isn't either a pressing need or a major part of the museum's vision.
posted by Sara C. at 12:40 PM on January 19


As to why PS1 is more suitable than the Folk Art Museum, if you'd ever been, you would immediately know.

A lot of modern/contemporary art is very large. It would be difficult for MoMA to use the Folk Art Museum as exhibition space for any but the smallest and most intimate pieces in its collection. And there's no real way to curate a museum such that small pieces go in one building and large pieces go in another. The only real way to make it work would be to move the photography and illustration departments to the Folk Art building, and that may not be consistent with MoMA's needs or goals for the future.

Despite what some people in this thread think, MoMA's sole purpose is not to preserve this one particular building.
posted by Sara C. at 12:43 PM on January 19


Random question apropos of very little:

Is it more politically correct in New York to demolish new buildings rather than old ones?
posted by Sara C. at 12:47 PM on January 19


> Is it more politically correct in New York to demolish new buildings rather than old ones?

"Politically incorrect" is a propaganda phrase originally invented by certain conservatives to deflect justifiable anger and reaction against them for their abhorrent beliefs and practices, and as such is more or less devoid of meaning.

Buildings do have a certain lifespan and at a certain point the cost of maintenance of a building outweighs the value of its future usable life. It's perfectly reasonable and utilitarian to consider whether the idea of knocking down an almost-new, functional and aesthetically pleasing building is ethically, environmentally and fiscally objectionable.



> A lot of modern/contemporary art is very large

I was in PS1 a couple of weeks ago. Most of the rooms in PS1 are not "very large". It's been some years since I was in the MoFA but I recall many of their rooms being significantly larger than the corresponding rooms in PS1.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:44 PM on January 19


a propaganda phrase originally invented by certain conservatives to deflect justifiable anger and reaction against them for their abhorrent beliefs and practices, and as such is more or less devoid of meaning.

Eh, if you know anything about the Preservation scene in NYC it's actually a perfectly appropriate phrase.
posted by Sara C. at 2:09 PM on January 19


> You get that MoMA didn't build this building, right? The Folk Art Museum commissioned the building. That the building is not suited to MoMA's collection or mission is not MoMA's fault.

The building is still an investment. Regardless of who originally paid for the design.

Sara C.: "*A lot of modern/contemporary art is extremely large and has moving, storage, and installation needs that are more complex than, say, a Grandma Moses painting."

Well aware of this. My spouse is a professional art-handler and a former museum preparator.
posted by desuetude at 3:04 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


Perhaps you might want to look a little harder about what people are actually saying before indulging in the personal attacks?

I'm fairly familiar with the whole discussion, and I didn't say a single thing that was a personal attack. I understand the repulsion at waste. But the world is full of waste, and I doubt this discussion (and I was referring to the discussion in the NY media, but extend it as far as you will) would be as full of pained righteousness if it were about a bank taking over another building and not a museum. MOMA has determined that the existing building will not suit its programmatic needs. They can fund a rebuild and will find the results better suited to its work. They have the power to make a decision and they have made the decision right for their own program and strategic plan for the museum.

I have worked in a number of museums saddled with old, inconvenient architecture designed for another purpose and another client, and in the end, starting afresh can represent a savings overall. Retrofitting is exceedingly expensive and quite wasteful, as well - sometimes more so.
posted by Miko at 4:39 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


> But the world is full of waste,

The world is full of murders. The world is full of war. The world is full of all sorts of terrible things. It doesn't mean that we need more of them.

The fact that humanity already wastes a lot in absolutely no way any sort of mitigation for a lot more waste, particularly at a building-sized level.

> and I doubt this discussion (and I was referring to the discussion in the NY media, but extend it as far as you will) would be as full of pained righteousness if it were about a bank taking over another building and not a museum.

I guarantee you that if a bank had bought, say, the Lever House and was going to tear it down because "they couldn't fit the floors in" there'd be ten times as much hue and cry.

The fact is that it's a beautiful building, it's almost brand-new as buildings go, and a lot of people don't like the idea it's going into the scrap heap.

If they couldn't use the building, they should simply have not bought it three years ago. It's tremendously wasteful, and management-speak like "the existing building will not suit its programmatic needs" doesn't change that fact one iota.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:50 PM on January 19


Also, we can't compare MOMA or the Folk Art to PS 1. PS 1 is a kunsthalle, designed for temporary changing exhibitions. That's not the same thing as designing for permanent collection display. Not being familiar with the specs for either institution's galleries, I can't say how they specifically differ, but there is no doubt that there is much in the MOMA that could not be displayed at PS 1. It is not hard to find references to PS 1's poor climate control.

Even so, it's not the age of the building that dictates whether or not it can be refitted for the kind of art display an institution desires. Sometimes a refit can work. Sometimes it can't, or the people making the decisions just don't find the result suits the long-term goals, even if it can. I am simply saying the MOMA is within its rights to make this decision, and it will be the MOMA's responsibility to raise the funds for it and make it happen.

Saltz on MoMA’s Plan to Raze the Folk Art Museum: Good! Build Something That Has Room for Art
The problem all along is that this building [the Folk Art] has been looked at not as a space for art but as an idea of an art museum. Never mind that visiting work there would likely involve a non-contiguous route from MoMA’s main buidling. Try to imagine only one gallery of MoMA's work — say the great gallery of eight Jackson Pollock paintings, or Monet’s “Water Lilies,” which already look fairly crappy at MoMA — hanging anywhere in the Williams-Tsien building other than the stone entry atrium. Put any of MoMA’s art in that building and it will die. And certainly contemporary art does not work there. Even granting that the Williams-Tsien facade is singular (I once compared it to a Kleenex box), the proponents of this building love it as an abstract ideal of a space for art, a platonic thing apart, a fetish.

This is among the most tragic chapters in New York museum architecture I have ever seen. The doleful truth is that no one wants to be right about something this painful. I understand the bitter reaction of architects and architecture critics to the news, but they should know that virtually every person in the art world believes that the Williams-Tsien building is a terrible place to look at art — and that it is just one of a spate of new museum buildings that put architecture before art since Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao. Architects: When you design an art museum, do whatever you like to the outside of your building. But please, create enough well-proportioned interior space to show art in. Art first; all else will follow.
I would submit that the waste was in the initial construction of this needless museum that was badly managed and could not make it. And a future of waste and lost opportunity would be involved in trying to cram not just the MOMA, but any other museum into its constrained and cubbylike spaces.
posted by Miko at 4:54 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


management-speak like "the existing building will not suit its programmatic needs"

This means "MOMA can't do what it should be doing for art and the public in this space."

Museums, particularly art museums, come in for a kind of criticism that usually exempts other institutions. Yes, waste is all around us. There are so many kinds of it we could object to, but let's attack the public cultural-educational nonprofit? That makes no sense to me.
posted by Miko at 4:55 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


So how old does a building have to be before it's "not wasteful" to demolish it and build something more suitable?

Is it ever OK to demolish a building and build something else on the same site?

There's a former Taco Bell near my work which is standing empty. I would assume that any company that bought the lot would demolish the Taco Bell and rebuild, because who wants a former Taco Bell? The Taco Bell couldn't have been terribly old, so in an environmental sense demolishing it would be wasteful. It's also wasteful for the property to sit empty when it can't be used in its current state. So what's to be done?
posted by Sara C. at 4:58 PM on January 19


I can't say how they specifically differ, but there is no doubt that there is much in the MOMA that could not be displayed at PS 1.

A decade ago when the current MoMA building was being renovated and the collection was based out of a warehouse in Queens very near (and very similar to) PS 1, a lot of the more important pieces were sent out on loan, likely for this very reason.
posted by Sara C. at 5:00 PM on January 19


Yes, I can point to entire acres of defunct strip mall plaza built less than 10 years ago nearby; and have seen it all over the country. For instance, an ex-Target store in Southern NJ that closed in order for a Super Target to be built less than two miles away. There's definitely no tenant for the old location, and tons of square footage available for a song, only nobody wants it. Oddly enough, there was really no protest over the move and the waste. Maybe that town just didn't have enough friends at the New York Times.
posted by Miko at 5:00 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


> This means "MOMA can't do what it should be doing for art and the public in this space."

That claim is what is in dispute.

> So how old does a building have to be before it's "not wasteful" to demolish it and build something more suitable?
>
> Is it ever OK to demolish a building and build something else on the same site?

How do you get from my "I don't believe this building should be torn down" to "I don't believe any building should be torn down ever"?

Also, I wrote about this only a few lines above:

"Buildings do have a certain lifespan and at a certain point the cost of maintenance of a building outweighs the value of its future usable life. It's perfectly reasonable and utilitarian to consider whether the idea of knocking down an almost-new, functional and aesthetically pleasing building is ethically, environmentally and fiscally objectionable".
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:04 PM on January 19


How do you get from my "I don't believe this building should be torn down" to "I don't believe any building should be torn down ever"?

Because your main reason that it shouldn't is that it would be "wasteful".

Why is it "wasteful" to tear down this building, but not wasteful to tear down a derelict big box store in New Jersey?

Why is it "wasteful" to tear down this building, but it wasn't wasteful for the MTA to tear down the Long Island City art space I lived in during college in order to expand some rail yards?

What is specifically wasteful about this situation that would not be wasteful about tearing down any building, anywhere?
posted by Sara C. at 5:09 PM on January 19


That claim is what is in dispute.

Well, not with me. Museums have been confined by their own architecture for too long. And museums are changing. Old ideas about what a "museum experience" have prevailed - not just old, but nineteenth-century ideas. And it's only really within the last five years that a serious reckoning with that has come to pass. Art is changing. The way people use and access art is changing. Museums are changing. The public and its preferences are changing. And buildings need to change too. They need to accommodate that if they want to continue to remain important, be relevant, and offer good experiences to people. The current MOMA can't even do that now. It certainly couldn't do it by packing their ambitions into the old building; I can see that easily, and I understand it.

"I don't believe any building should be torn down ever"?

That's the logical extension of your opposing this based on a "waste" argument.

at a certain point the cost of maintenance of a building outweighs the value of its future usable life

I don't even really agree with this, as some buildings continue to increase in value despite their age or maintenance costs. It depends on their function and location and revenue-generating possibilities, doesn't it? And then, the cost of maintenance is only one angle MOMA needs to be considering. They need to consider the cost of a total interior refit, which involves moving the level of almost every floor, and likely installing an entirely new security system, because I can all but guarantee you the Folk Art's was developed at an utterly different scale and level of quality, just based on the relative value and scope of its collection. And then they have to look at the opportunity cost of not adding the new kinds of spaces they are considering - performance space, installation space, gallery space, and just plain function/floor space. Many of those improve the institutional picture in ways that would not be possible with the old building.

In short, it's not a simple math equation. The plans MOMA has to grow its central campus are incompatible with this building - that's all. It sounds like they will do well to change the building rather than change their plans, which would start to impact its quality and stature relative to the rest of the world's great 20th century art museums.
posted by Miko at 5:12 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


I don't think it terribly controversial to say that a commissioned building which won awards for architecture and cost MoMA $31.2M to acquire has greater intrinsic value and deserves more consideration than a derelict generic big-box store. What?
posted by desuetude at 10:52 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


Maybe in another city it would be a bigger deal, but we're talking about Midtown Manhattan real estate, here. There are brownstones on the Upper West Side worth more.

As for awards, I don't know, I'm not going to say they weren't deserved (and clearly all these important architecture critics love the building), but eh. Again, it's Midtown Manhattan. You can't spit without hitting an award-winning building somebody doesn't want torn down. The fact that the museum wasn't landmarked is pretty telling. And, again, so can we just never demolish any building in New York because Architecture?
posted by Sara C. at 11:04 PM on January 19


The fact that the museum wasn't landmarked is pretty telling.

Yes, telling that it isn't 30 years old. Again... what?
posted by RogerB at 11:19 PM on January 19


But if it were 30 years old, then we'd be forbidden to tear it down because it was an Important Historic Building.

So when is it OK to demolish a building? When it's 27 years old?
posted by Sara C. at 11:43 PM on January 19


I'm not saying it's an awful building. Architecture awards from architects to architects are a lot like intraprofessional awards in any other field, but that doesn't mean they weren't deserved, or that some people don't really love this building. I don't dislike the exterior of the building myself. And as Sara C. says, New York is New York. There aren't that many lots on which you can build something new - so you get teardowns like this - 4.1 million historic house - or P.S. 31, which seems to be on the brink of demolition now despite weeks of hovering over the chopping block, and at the center of a large redevelopment zone. The land values are so astronomical, and the pressure on space so great, that teardowns are not uncommon: Teardowns and Land Values in New York City.

This is a nice rumination on how demolition, selectively done, might even improve the city. I am a huge historic preservation advocate, but in planning circles, there has also been concern raised about the effect of over-protection: if everything is landmarked, and you can't tear anything down, you run the risk of having a really stagnant city with no opportunities for new architectural ideas to come in and add variety and a sense of the contemporary.
posted by Miko at 5:14 AM on January 20


The main point of dispute is MoMA's insistence that this *will* help better fulfill its mission.

Many people who have been intimately involved with that mission have come forward to say that this plan takes the MoMA backwards, not forwards in terms of what a museum of Modern Art should be and its place in the greater community.

An older article was cited above by critic Jerry Saltz in order to bolster the argument that the Folk Museum was a failure and would be unable to be combined properly with a MoMA expansion, but in two recent articles Saltz has been adamant in denouncing MoMA's plans and laying out the reasons why he thinks the new expansion is a huge step backward for the museum and its social and cultural obligations.

Jerry Saltz to MoMA’s Trustees: Please, Reject This Awful Expansion Plan

Last week, Diller Scofidio + Renfro unveiled a design that replaces AFAM — a useless place for the exhibition of art, and a building whose demolition I have advocated — with even worse spaces. Their generic technocratic edifice is scornful to art, and will be less conducive to looking at art than the building it will replace. These designs are contemptuous of art, artists, and the museum. On behalf of the art community, I implore the trustees and board members to stop and reconsider the entire plan
.....
Please stop. Reconsider. Don't be handmaidens to this grotesque tragedy inflicted on a museum built on the backs of artists and the largess and love of art of people like you. MoMA is at a point of no return. This plan should be scrapped.


and:

Saltz: The Next MoMA Expansion Is As Big a Mess As the Last One

Admittedly, there will be some space added for that permanent collection, in the base of the $1.3 billion condo tower that's going up down the street. The net gain, as far as I could make out — although I was continually reminded that "all plans are in flux," maybe trade talk for, "We still don't know what we're doing" — will add up to about 30,000 square feet. That's about one Gagosian. On the good side? I imagine that "crowd flow," which all these people talked about, will be better. If uglier.

From the days both the new MoMA and the American Folk Art Museum opened, it was clear to almost all in the art world that they were tragic failures in terms of their primary missions. Now those disasters are joined forever. Perhaps this is as it should be.


Finally, on the tangential subject that was raised about the ticket price of $25:
Crowds being willing to pay that amount is in no way proof that it's a fair price, or more importantly, a price in keeping with what a non-profit cultural institution's mission museum should be, unless that mission is to act as a gated resource engaging in free market practices.

posted by stagewhisper at 5:49 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


His main objection seems to be that there's not enough planned gallery space. I think the assumption that what any museum most needs is more places to hang artwork is worth questioning. That is important, and adding galleries will help MOMA use its collection more flexibly. However, museums don't always need to maximize display space (if we did, we could go back to nineteenth-century salon-style hanging for everything, after all). That's what I meant above by museums changing. There are those who would critique any expansion solely on the basis of whether it provides hanging space for more of the collection or not; Saltz is one of those. However, I've been arguing that MOMA needs other things even more. It needs circulation space, for one thing, as any recent visit experience will attest. It needs the performance studios, and it needs the function space. Without those things it can't be a good contemporary museum; it can't be on the cutting edge of art interpretation and art experience.

I'm just not sure we should be weighing the words of art critics so very heavily in the discussion of how the museum should make its plans. Art critics aren't as concerned with people, with experience, with interpretation, with events, with participation. They are focused on art content alone. Of course they want more paintings on more walls. But while that could help MOMA be a bigger museum, it might not help MOMA be a better museum. There are many things MOMA simply can't do right now because it's squeezed all the varied functions of a full-service contemporary art museum into a building that can no longer contain those kinds of growth. I don't agree with Judith Dobrzynski about the function of a museum, so I don't wring my hands with her that participation and experience are "taking over" the museum. I also think Saltz' hyperbolic ranting on Facebook and elsewhere that "MOMA is in crisis" and that its Trustees need to step down is similarly hysterical. I see these oppositional retrenchments as signs of an old guard really not liking new directions in arts learning; it's not the side I want to be on, or the side I think that museums that are serious about serving the public should be on, in this day and age.

Crowds being willing to pay that amount is in no way proof that it's a fair price, or more importantly, a price in keeping with what a non-profit cultural institution's mission museum should be, unless that mission is to act as a gated resource engaging in free market practices.

I'm no economist, but I do think that if people pay the market price, especially if they do it more than once, they are verifying that it represents fair value equivalent to or greater than the cash price. I see that you are saying in the broader sense it might not be "fair" in that some can pay it and some can't, or that some people might see it as arbitrary or not agree with the decisions that resulted in the budget structure underlying that admissions pricing, but it's a complicated discussion. The first mission, the first responsibility of the museum, is to balance each year's operating budget so as to stay open. MOMA needs gate admission more than most other museums in order to balance the annual budget. I personally believe that all museums should be free, but we haven't got the right infrastructure in place for most museums to move to that funding model, though a few are doing it based on massive endowment gifts from angel donors (Crystal Bridges, Dallas Museum of Art, the Getty). This is an excellent thesis on the complexities of free admission. And frankly, MOMA could not operate as a free museum without painfully exacerbating its already serious crowding problem. They'd most likely have to limit the number of tickets available per day, perhaps booking them months or years in advance, which in turn would threaten to create a "scalper problem" in which ticket value for tickets traded after reservation would increase greatly, but profits wouldn't return to the museum but to the reseller instead. That might also functionally lock out many participants who can use the various programs and alternative admission schemes to get in currently, without having to fight hordes of casual and relatively uninterested visitors to get inside. Ticketing does act as a valve on the flow, and a place like MOMA really has to have some way to manage visitor flow.

The truth is that though most museums would like to run at a much-reduced or free admission, it's not something they can all immediately do, especially in the extremely punishing climate of shrinking foundation and corporate dollars, disappearing state and federal support, and competition pressure on revenue-generating components that's similar to what the rest of retail and food service have to contend with. Add to that that for most museums of the size of MOMA, the gate cost (retail, if you will) is only paid by at most about 60% of attendees. School groups, members, participants in certain programs like library pass systems, reciprocal agreements, free days each week or month, etc., count for a lot of free admissions, and those numbers continue to grow across the field because there is a lot of interest in expanding access and also a lot of pressure on discretionary spending at lower income levels. In an unequal society, that can often mean a premium on the retail ticket for those who are less price-sensitive, functionally subsidizing those with fewer cash resources. The pricing discussion gets into the financial ether fast, and every institution has to come up with a plan and stick with it. MOMA's pricing is not out of line for its audience or its membership in the topmost tier of American museums. In my ideal world, it would be free, but as you can see, it is not so simple to just do.

Finally, I also find it interesting (having worked in several genres of museum) that these discussions are most sensitive around art museums. Art museums have a distinct atmosphere that comes with the swirl of money- and the perception of the swirl of money - around select activities within the art sphere (buying and selling on the private art market, art auctions, collectors, major donations, huge architect commisions, fancy galas). I think this creates a certain degree of anxiety and suspicion around museums that doesn't always carry over to science, natural history, and history museums. For instance, two of the biggest science centers on the East Coast are nearly as expensive as MOMA, and easily outstrip MOMA when you add the a la carte ticketing for some of their core experiences like special exhibitions or IMAX theatres. For instance, the MoS Boston is $23 for an adult admission, $33 with the planetarium and IMAX, and $38 with both. Liberty Science Center is $19.75, $25.75 with an IMAX. The AMNH is $27 for admission plus a film or planetarium. In the realm of history, Colonial Williamsburg's is $24.95 for one day, but you are encouraged to buy the $31.95 multiday ticket because you can't see even 25% of CW in one day. And that price is before any of the copious add-ons like tours, experiences, or meals that you essentially have to purchase in the park. Plimoth Plantation's pass to the Mayflower II, the Village and the Mill is $35.00. These prices are set in careful consultation with tourism industry experts, with lots of benchmarking, with analysis of past figures, with market testing, and all the usual things you'd expect. Museums are just crazy expensive to run, and if we don't have a way of supporting them substantially through the state or institutional giving, the cost has to pass to the walk-in customer. But I do find it interesting that so many other kinds of museums have ticket prices equal to or higher than those of art museums, yet rarely come in for the same kind of drubbing that art museums get when ticket prices increase. Is it because the perception of value at a historic site or science museum is that much greater? Is it the idea that it will be hands-on, involving, meaningful, active? In that case, that certainly argues for art museums to follow suit and add more of those kinds of experiences. Which is what MOMA and other forward-thinking museums are working to do. Is it that our society views science and history as more worthwhile or valuable than art? Is it that we trust the kinds of people who run science and history institutions more than we trust the people who run art institutions? And if we don't, why not? All interesting things to consider.
posted by Miko at 6:58 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Well, and it's also true that, in comparison to a museum like the Met or the Whitney, a comparatively small amount of MoMA's gallery space is taken up by their Painting And Sculpture department, which is the backbone of the museum and what most (old-guard?) people think of when they think Art Museum.

One of the reasons people hated MoMA's renovation a decade ago was that it created a large central atrium space for the display of a few signature pieces, dedicated an entire floor to contemporary art, and an additional two floors to temporary exhibition space. The old guard feels threatened by the idea of an art museum that is, like, one third Big Important White Dude Paintings, and like two thirds Marina Abramovic and Yayoi Kusama and movie theaters and a helicopter in the staircase.
posted by Sara C. at 7:55 PM on January 21


Or it could be that "We" are concerned primarily in the ways in which this particular contemporary art museum does or does not serve its audience and treat its community, because "We" are part of the art community (and greater community at large) that it claims to serve, part of a community that, if it didn't exist, would result in there being no MoMA in the first place.

I have no idea who Judith Dobrzynski is, and I think her opinions on what art should or should not be have nothing to do with the critiques that people here have already made. Most people I know agree re: The Expanded Field and that contemporary art is not about objects hanging on walls or whatever. A new renovation should accommodate that and encourage the ability to mount contemporary works/performances/installations etc. Again, the argument is that this new space will fail to do this because it's *not about the art and creating the best environment for that art to be experienced in.

The hypotheticals you pose may be interesting if this is actually a phenomenon, but since most of the people here in the thread, and most of the writers that have been cited in this thread who are in opposition to what MoMA plans on doing are part of the (small letter "a") art world and not The Historical Museum World or Science Museum World, etc. (or I guess for that matter the South Jersey Strip Mall World?) then asking them to be outraged about those feels like concern trolling to me.

The old guard feels threatened by the idea of an art museum that is, like, one third Big Important White Dude Paintings, and like two thirds Marina Abramovic and Yayoi Kusama and movie theaters and a helicopter in the staircase.

This thread is just chock full of snide mischaracterizations about why there's a lot of outrage in the (again, small "a" not big "A") art world about what MoMA is doing. Not to mention character assassinations. Frankly, it's weird. A large percentage of the people I know who have decried the original renovation are also the same people who have criticized the lack of inclusion of women and people of color in MoMA's exhibits and collection. Many of these same people have spent years agitating around those issues as well.
posted by stagewhisper at 8:17 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Yeah, on rereading the Saltz pieces, I think we are just seeing the latest iteration of the
Temple vs. Forum debate. After all, Saltz can't claim to value democratic access when he doesn't want anybody dirtying his privatesculpture garden (I mean, GMAFB). In my view, iobjections to the draft design are not about art per se, but about what the appropriate or acceptable ways are to interact with art. In the formulation of many, contemplation, study, quiet personal viewing, traditional media, mass display, yes; performance, installation, conversation, interactivity, surprise, attention to context as well as content, no.

I lean way more toward the pro-user, museum-as-holistic-enterprise articulated in this Fast Company piece by people like Elizabeth Merritt, whom I greatly respect. It's no new thing for people like her, or me, to be at odds with art critics over the nature, purpose, and function of museums.
posted by Miko at 8:20 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


I have no idea who Judith Dobrzynski is, and I think her opinions on what art should or should not be have nothing to do with the critiques that people here have already made.

An important critic with a widely read blog who writes for the New York Times, but you could just read the piece I linked and get the gist of her argument about how museums should be, one much like Saltz' (though she takes the opposite opinion on MoMA). The thing is, this is all part of a bigger discourse, is my point. Not being aware of that discourse doesn't make it unimportant - it's part of the context for this whole MoMA thing. MoMA is a data point in a larger picture of change. In fact, my critique of the discourse at this level is that it isn't connected enough to the larger one - who are museums for, what are they for, how are they changing, how does design accommodate those changes, who is advantaged by those changes, who is disadvantaged, why, and is it worth it.

I understand that a lot of people who I would think would see a strong philosophical argument for access and experience as central to the museum project would be on MoMA's side in this discussion are not, yet, and I think that's darned interesting. There are some funny bedfellows going on.

I don't think we can say whether or not this space is better for art, as it's not designed yet. But they're clearly thinking about something that is better for people.

I'm not concern trolling, I'm deeply interested in questions like why the dichotomy exists between the value and concern people place on art museums and that they place on other museum genres doing the same things, but with different content. It is interesting to speculate about why this difference exists.
posted by Miko at 8:27 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


not about the art and creating the best environment for that art to be experienced in.

So then what is the consensus that this building project is about?

Is the fear that it's going to be a giant gift shop, or more offices for fundraisers, or what?

It just seems weird to me to get all grarr-ish about a museum using its money to create an expansion project that it feels will accomplish its stated mission in the best way.

Are we arguing here that MoMA is working in bad faith, and tearing down the Folk Art building in order to do something not in keeping with the goals of a world class contemporary art museum?
posted by Sara C. at 8:31 PM on January 21


hello is this thing on

Right, well. Again, it's not just the critics who have something to say about this, it's just that the critics cited so far have a platform to publish those thoughts on. Actual people who visit this museum regularly, and care about this museum, and have helped shape this museum in some way in the past also feel this way. see this thread alone for evidence.

The fact that there is a glowing article about this in Fast Company is perfect.

Quote:
This expansion is about people, who, it may turn out, go to the museum to see and be seen, rather than peruse the art galleries.

Catering to these people, rather than creating an environment optimally conducive to mounting excellent shows in a space optimized for viewing those works is what the issue is. The author of that article doesn't think this is a problem. Lots of artists and art lovers and people who loved and believe in MoMA's original mission do.

I am friends with an actual art critic for the NYT and Judith Dobrzynski may write the occasional freelance article for the paper but saying she is an important art critic, well, no we will have to disagree about the definition of important I guess.
posted by stagewhisper at 8:52 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Lots of artists and art lovers and people who loved and believe in MoMA's original mission do.

I would call myself an artist and art lover. I work in an art museum - one actually undergoing a physical expansion - so these conversations have been my workaday world for a few years. MoMA's mission is
The Museum of Modern Art is a place that fuels creativity, ignites minds, and provides inspiration. With extraordinary exhibitions and the world's finest collection of modern and contemporary art, MoMA is dedicated to the conversation between the past and the present, the established and the experimental. Our mission is helping you understand and enjoy the art of our time.
It sounds as though the architectural program they are working toward will be a physical representation of this mission in action.

I just don't think we know enough about what they are going to build to say that they will not be creating "an environment optimally conducive to mounting excellent shows in a space optimized for viewing those works." They do seem to be creating some very interesting spaces in which to mount excellent shows. This also may have an impact on the existing galleries, allowing for a reorganization of the permanent collection which may be more optimal.

But finally, I want to talk about your "we," that you put into quotations. The "art world." When I used "we" above, I was talking about everyone. People who go to museums. Not just "art lovers," but the whole universe of people who enjoy, need, and love museums. These museums are theirs too. The values prized by those who consider themselves part of the "art world" are not necessarily always those most important to the running of an effective, inclusive, thriving and productive museum. What I see going on amongst critics is a very insular, "art world" discussion that is focused only on traditional art display to the exclusion of every other museum function, and doesn't take in understandings of how the broadest range of museum users actually take in and participate with museums. There is a certain rigidity in establishing a hierarchy of art experience. Many old-school art museum loyalists consider the personal contemplative experience of looking at a displayed piece of art to be the true experience for which a museum is designed. This view delegitimizes most other kinds of museum experiences, including the conversational, social, performative. That's really a problem now that we know and broadly accept that human beings learn in different ways and construct their own meanings from the events they experience, using the sensory tools we give them. Expecting people to confine their museum behavior within a narrow range (look at piece, read label, mumble quietly, shuffle on to the next) is not consistent with the kinds of things people today want to use museums for, and the range of experiences museums can provide which no other cultural institution can provide.

It's definitely a conservative position, a position which resists change. Furthermore, in the case of MoMA, it seems misplaced. They are expanding gallery space, they are adding space for new kinds of art display, and they are increasing space for educational programming which enhances the understanding of art. They are increasing access through the ground floor to sculpture and other words, for free. Even if one reasons from a conservative position, I'm not sure how anyone can take some really preliminary concept sketches and decide the museum will be inadequate. It certainly seems to be in keeping with its mission.

A final note: I don't want to get into arguments from authority, really. You know art critics, and so do I. You know journalists and so do I. Dobryzinski isn't an art critic (and I didn't say she was); she's a cultural critic, but she writes about art a lot, and her piece on participation was incredibly widely read and ended up being the most recent flash point for the temple vs. forum debate, which is why I cited it; it was hard to miss if you read about museums a lot. My point is not that "famous person/media outlet said X" (I see that as part of the problem, the dominance of critics in a conversation which should be more populist and take in other perspectives, such as those of cognitive science and experience design), but that there are points of view in the world of museums that align along certain boundaries, and the most conservative one says "all art display all the time in a temple-like environment is the best possible condition to which all museums must aspire." This is something that I, and many other people in the world of museums and public experience, believe needs to be brought into balance with the way people live, learn, experience, and understand art and ideas today.
posted by Miko at 6:10 AM on January 22


Just for anyone interested in the broader debate about what the museum experience should be about, here's more on the NYT Dobryzinski piece, which ran on the front page of Sunday Review, and some of the letters that ran in its full-page letters-to-the-editor section the following week. More from Dobryzinski on her blog, concerned that people use art museums for the "right reasons." Here's a rebuttal on Slate by Dennis Kois, director of the DeCordova. Some further responses by some of my favorite museum bloggers: Thinking About Museums' False dichotomies, straw men, and real change and Tilting at Windmills, Part Two; Cabinet of Curiosities' Get Off My (Museum) Lawn!, Engaging Museums. This was really the latest round of wide public discussion on museums in society, especially art museums. And it came out at about the same time as the CNN Opinion blockbuster Why I Hate Museums.
posted by Miko at 7:57 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


They do seem to be creating some very interesting spaces in which to mount excellent shows.

Seriously: have you actually been to the Taniguchi-era MoMA? This is, to put it mildly, not how I've ever heard it described by anyone who cared about art. Quoting the bafflegab of the museum's publicity brochures and mission statement really doesn't address the problem that many people (including several linked in the FPP) see it as a museum that is losing its way. Nor does talking about moving away from "traditional art" seem reassuring — since the museum's collection includes many irreplaceable, uniquely important pieces of same.

It's definitely a conservative position, a position which resists change.

LOL. The bizarro-world cultural politics of this thread have been very informative as well as amusing, but this really takes it to a new level. This is just like watching the Tea Party in action: expertise and reflectiveness mean that art critics are "elitist" "old guard" conservatives standing in the way of change, while pseudo-populist management-speak about openness provides a cover for whatever the growth-obsessed philistine billionaires on the board decide to do with (or to) our shared cultural heritage.
posted by RogerB at 10:48 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


The values prized by those who consider themselves part of the "art world" are not necessarily always those most important to the running of an effective, inclusive, thriving and productive museum.

Especially a museum on the scale and with the audience that MoMA has to deal with.

I think a museum like The New Museum or Dia Beacon can embody the sort of outlook that critics of MoMA would prefer. They're museums with smaller collections and narrower focuses, who are for various reasons not really forced to see All Human Beings Ever as their audience. They can talk in the "we" of "the art world", not the "we" of People. But MoMA can't, and to expect that smacks of a sort of elitism that, I don't know, maybe some art lovers are OK with, but I'm certainly not.
posted by Sara C. at 11:39 AM on January 22


Sara C.: "Are we arguing here that MoMA is working in bad faith, and tearing down the Folk Art building in order to do something not in keeping with the goals of a world class contemporary art museum?"

MoMA's attitude is that of a straightforward commercial real-estate developer, complete with an "assessment" to justify their decision produced by a firm with a conflict of interest.

Sure, museums need to participate in the real estate market as a means to an end, but acquiring the Williams/Tsien building just to tear it down and replace it with something more efficient smells a little off. I would expect a contemporary art museum to show more sensitivity toward stewardship of art and architecture, since that is their actual mission.
posted by desuetude at 2:14 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


MoMA's attitude is that of a straightforward commercial real-estate developer

How so?

Are they planning to sell the lot cleared by demolishing the Folk Art building? Are they planning to put it to some use that is not that of being an art museum?

If we were talking about something on the order of NYU buying apartment buildings and displacing longtime neighborhood residents in a low income area, for questionable reasons that may or may not relate directly to the mission of the university, I think the "real estate developer" comparison would fly.

But we're not. We're talking about most of one side of one particular block in Midtown. We're talking about a building created to house another museum, which sold the building of its own accord in a transaction that likely saved said institution. We're talking about a plan that would do exactly what it says on the tin, perfectly in keeping with the mission of what museums do.

I mean, art critics gonna criticize, but really there's nothing sketchy or underhanded about the real estate or architectural aspects of this.
posted by Sara C. at 2:29 PM on January 22


Are they planning to put it to some use that is not that of being an art museum? [...] really there's nothing sketchy or underhanded about the real estate or architectural aspects

Does the huge planned commercial development on the adjoining lot (you know, the lot that MoMA recently sold to the developer at a relative bargain price), whose first few floors are part of the expansion plan under discussion, not count for some reason? Or have you so far managed to avoid reading those parts of TFAs? It's hard to tell.
posted by RogerB at 2:47 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Not in this discussion, since we're talking about the Folk Art Museum, not some other lot.

That MoMA owns other lots on the block and has done X or Y with them has no real bearing on whether the Folk Art building ought to be torn down or not.

I feel neutral-to-icky about MoMA and other institutions playing real estate developer (though I don't think MoMA is even close to the most egregious example of this), but that's not really germane to this particular building in this particular case, where it seems like MoMA has intentions for the lot that are completely above board.
posted by Sara C. at 3:04 PM on January 22


Not in this discussion, since we're talking about the Folk Art Museum, not some other lot.

It is not clear to me why you think this is the only permissible topic of discussion in this thread. The articles in the post, and AFAICT most other people's comments in the thread, are responses to the newly announced MoMA expansion plan by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, a plan that includes both the Tower Verre project and the former Folk Art building.

That MoMA owns other lots on the block and has done X or Y with them has no real bearing on whether the Folk Art building ought to be torn down or not.

This directly contradicts what Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the architecture firm responsible, says about it in the linked articles that are the subject of the post. The Tower Verre expansion is, according to them, one of the main reasons that the former Folk Art building has to go.
posted by RogerB at 3:22 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Sara C.: "I mean, art critics gonna criticize, but really there's nothing sketchy or underhanded about the real estate or architectural aspects of this."

Unless you're an architect. I'll quote from the NY Review link:
"The unseemly alacrity with which Diller Scofidio + Renfro accepted the controversial assignment contravened a longstanding ethical rule among high-style architects: one does not participate in the destruction of a building by a living colleague."
posted by desuetude at 7:29 PM on January 22


Seriously: have you actually been to the Taniguchi-era MoMA?

Oh for heaven's sake, many times; I know members of their staff, I attend conference sessions there, etc. It's my field and they're one of the most-known, most-watched places in the field. I know it well.

expertise and reflectiveness mean that art critics are "elitist" "old guard" conservatives standing in the way of chang

I really am as amused as you, RogerB, at who's willing to throw in their lot with whom over this issue. And that the idea of the gated art cathedral intellectually acecssible only to those already trained is alive and well even among those who think of themselves as progressives. "Expertise and reflectiveness" are in abundance on the side of expansion of access to museums, as well, and in fact, there are many fewer billionaires on that side of the issue, in reality.

In the final analysis, we are just kibitzing. Most of us in the thread are not even members of MoMA, let alone trustees, employees, or decisionmakers there. Our opinions are not important to the outcome. I think they're on the right track. But even if they're not, directors change; it's the collection that's permanent. The expansion looks like a good move for the collection and the program, and a good way for MoMA to continue to lead its field and be responsible to its enormously wide public. Everyone can feel how they feel about it, and write screeds and op-eds and blog posts about it, but it's not in our hands, actually. And that - WWIC - is what infuriates everyone the most.

As for the internecine battles of architects, well.

There's a magnification that comes with everything New York, everything real estate, everything high art. I wish we saw this kind of outcry over the demolition of humbler structures, but it tends to be reserved for events in which larger egos are at stake.
posted by Miko at 7:42 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


It's becoming increasingly difficult to explain my position (and possibly help other people understand the position of the many people who are extremely unhappy with what MoMA is setting out to do) without trying to counter the ugly mischaracterizations and omnipotent mind-reading going on that somehow allows you to teach each of us what our *real* motivations are, Miko.

I'd also ask that you refrain from using "we" as often as you do because it comes across as condescending and even though I don't believe you mean it to, it feels like an omnipotent attempt to speak for everyone.

I really am as amused as you, RogerB, at who's willing to throw in their lot with whom over this issue. And that the idea of the gated art cathedral intellectually acecssible only to those already trained is alive and well even among those who think of themselves as progressives.

Congratulations on once again knocking down this straw man you built using some "important cultural critic" who nobody here or in any of the articles referenced. We get it. You have a distaste for trained artists or serious art critics. But those trained artists and serious art critics are not trying to limit access (educational, experiential, intellectual) to the work that it's MoMA's mission to present. Quite the opposite. Unless you think the art itself (and by the way, when I say "the art itself" I am also including the viewer and their interactions with said art. Because just as nobody is questioning your Museum Admin chops, you may consider extending the same courtesy to people who likely have much a much deeper understanding of the past present and possible future of contemporary art practices and their tendencies) is less important than expansion into "new markets" (Read: yes, real estate, but also a new type of visitor more interested in being part of the cache of the MoMA than engaged in the art itself).

You keep referring to this cache that MoMA has in a lot of your arguments. But MoMA does not have the best track record when it comes to these sorts of things, and so I'm not sure why this next move should be taken at face value. Manifest Destiny?

I can say this: I have had the opportunity to spend a huge chunk of time over a two month period discussing MoMA's last expansion and attendant union busting with a fairly large number of former employees. I see that refraining from the whole arguing from authority thing was completely tossed out the window after all. I am going to avoid any kind of insider pissing match here regardless.

However I do want to link to the following review/interview with the director of a recent collaborative performance, the topic of which was MoMA's labor practices through history, which is linked closely to their expansion as well. Please note: there were 25 performers in the work (I was one), and the piece was made of of direct transcripts from former MoMA employees. A large chunk of the cast were also former MoMA staff, and I think the interview fleshes out some of the problems with seeing the MoMA an altruistic force.
posted by stagewhisper at 10:50 AM on January 23


a new type of visitor more interested in being part of the cache of the MoMA than engaged in the art itself

I'm curious about this, because I have been to MoMA probably hundreds of times -- and in fact I used to work there -- and have never met this mythical art-hating "see and be seen" MoMA visitor you speak of.

Hell, I also used to live around the corner from the Brooklyn Museum, which has an outlook similar to that of MoMA when it comes to the stuff Miko is talking about. The Brooklyn Museum throws a dance party in the museum once a month which is free and open to the public. A lot of local teenagers attend as a matter of course, and in general the whole point of the event is to get people into the museum who don't typically visit art museums.

The museum is always packed for these events. Despite the fact that it would be very easy to "see and be seen" at these parties, and despite the fact that the whole POINT of the event isn't to look at the art but to do whatever it is one does at a dance party, I've never seen anyone there who didn't seem to be excited to view the art. In fact, those parties are often the only time I've actually seen other people in some of the more obscure galleries that tend to be very quiet on a typical Saturday.

Can't we just let people enjoy art on their own terms without determining that they're doing it wrong and are obviously just in the museum to "be part of the cache"?
posted by Sara C. at 11:26 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Can't we just let people enjoy art on their own terms without determining that they're doing it wrong
Absolutely! But the issue is that the new spaces are being geared toward that purpose, rather than the purpose of presenting contemporary art. Nobody here as far as I've seen has been saying that alternative ways of getting people to interact with, and enjoy, art is a bad thing. I'm certainly not, and in fact I am employed to do just that through a contemporary arts gallery at a major state University. Many of the people in the communities I work with through the program have only been in a museum on a school field trip, if ever. Most of them have very little to no exposure to contemporary art. Many of them are incarcerated and may not have many opportunities to do so again in the future (although we are all working to change that). This isn't about elitism.
posted by stagewhisper at 11:38 AM on January 23


You probably "have never met this mythical art-hating "see and be seen" MoMA visitor you speak of." because I described no such such art-hating creature. Please show me where I did, or is that what you mean by mythical?
posted by stagewhisper at 11:40 AM on January 23


But what are these huge populations who are visiting MoMA for the wrong reasons, or whatever you're suggesting?

What specific areas of the museum are being given undue focus because of these people who are there for reasons other than enjoying the art?

I just... I have been to a LOT of museums, including a lot of museums which are shifting to newer, less "quiet contemplation" focused approaches to their visitors. I have worked in museums. I am broke and work a 9-5 job, so I typically go either on the free day or on weekends when it's most likely to be crowded with these unserious "cache" visitors you're concerned about.

And... I've never seen this phenomenon you speak of.

So how do we know this is an actual thing to be concerned about?
posted by Sara C. at 12:03 PM on January 23


Fort the very last time (I promise) I Could Give A Shit about why any specific person is at the museum or what their innermost motivation for being there is. I am not concerned about "unserious cache visitors". I am concerned about MoMA's focus on shiny glass baubles that funnel lots of people through at the expense of wall and floor space for its extensive collection and that serve as excellent flexible fundraising party spaces for things unrelated to art at the expense of doing its job of showing Fucking Contemporary Art in the best environment possible for both the art and the viewer (assuming the viewer wants to primarily engage with the art). How hard is this to understand?
posted by stagewhisper at 12:58 PM on January 23


Only because it keeps confusing me, the word we want here is cachet; cache means something differnet.

ugly mischaracterizations and omnipotent mind-reading going on that somehow allows you to teach each of us what our *real* motivations are, Miko

As far as I'm concerned, I haven't done any of this. I'm arguing with a point of view, not a person.

a new type of visitor more interested in being part of the cache of the MoMA than engaged in the art itself

Why are some motivations seen to be purer than others? What makes some "types" of visitors less worthy of a museum than others?

problems with seeing the MoMA an altruistic force

I don't see the MoMA as an altruistic force. I see their programmatic direction as generally positive for the museum user and reflective of positive developments in the museum world overall.

the new spaces are being geared toward that purpose, rather than the purpose of presenting contemporary art

The new spaces seem to be geared to the purpose of allowing people in to engage with contemporary art. I don't see these two purposes you name as being at odds. The new spaces seem to be aimed to bring art and people together for a variety of experiences - art-based, art-focused experiences. These experiences will engage people with contemporary art.

How hard is this to understand?

Well, you keep essentially saying "I'm not against opening up access to art, except that I am." So it is a little hard to understand your point of view, and figure out what you're arguing in favor of, if it's not to privilege one kind of use and one kind of experience over another, and to exclude those who prefer kinds of experience.

To talk more about it, you seem to assume that the most important use of every square foot of floor space must be more art display; you're critiquing the expansion plan on the basis that there's not enough art space. That shows a bias toward prioritizing art display space over all other uses of space. In this formulation, showing art, the most art possible, must be the prime directive. Yet this is no longer the museum's prime directive. Sometimes showing less art, but more effectively, is the best choice. Sometimes showing other kinds of art, the non-wall-hanging kind, is the best choice. Sometimes giving more room to amenities, respite, and modalities other than reflective observation results in a better experience. Sometimes expanding the number and range of functions and events you can host is part of creating "the best environment possible for both the art and the viewer."

The idea that the job of museums is only to show art, and the maximum amount of art, in all spaces all the time, is being productively questioned across the field. You claim not to care about "unserious cache[t] visitors," but then also insist that the only appropriate way to visit is to "primarily engage with art." Are those whose primary goal is not your kind of engagement with art therefore "unserious cachet visitors?"

Engaging with art -whether primarily, secondarily, or somewhere further down the imagined hierarchy of purposes - is important and is one of the central goals of the art museum, but it's not the sole goal, nor is it the best way to achieve "engagement with art" always "hang the most art on the most walls possible and walk away and leave people to it." The constellation of events and activities that take place in a contemporary museum - lectures, films, performances, demonstrations, meetups, conversations, workshops, tours, hacks, panels, interventions, takeovers, classes, storytimes, interactive experiences, pop-up installations, games, functions, and yes, fundraising parties - all of these are also essential to "engagement with art" for the widest variety of people. My work is to be sure that we are not relying only on the classical vision of standing in front of an artwork and looking at it as the primary form of engagement with art in the museum. There are many people whose cognitive types, preferences, tastes, needs, abilities, and backgrounds lead them to engage with art using additional approaches. It's my job to understand and value those and to design them into museum experiences. It's through this recognition that we're not all serious artists, art students and/or art aficionados that we begin to open the museum and to make art more interesting and accessible to those who haven't been privileged enough to have it opened up to them in the same ways that artists themselves have.

I see a really great thing happening in the world: I see museums becoming interesting, appealing, and cool, after a long and terrible nadir of declining attendance and funding crashes that happened nationwide beginning in the late 1980s. People understand and value what museums have, and want to be part of it in a wide variety of ways. Museums need and want their involvement and support. Museums and their publics exist in a symbiotic relationship - growing one helps grow the other. We are at the threshold of a time in which museums (I think) will move closer to the center of American culture as important places of exploration, understanding, and involvement. They can't do that, though, if all they offer is art display, with no real thought for the physical experience of being in the museum, or the varieties of cognitive experience that art can help to generate.
posted by Miko at 1:52 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


As far as I'm concerned, I haven't done any of this. I'm arguing with a point of view, not a person.

You're really badly and persistently misreading the points of view in the thread, though, in the interest of arguing with a straw-man "point of view" which no one else is actually arguing. Maybe it's an unconscious side effect of the argument you're making — the kind of populist rhetoric that you're engaging in, where the kind of "engagement" viewers can have with the art doesn't seem to matter and the largest number of visitors seems to be the highest good, may entail mischaracterizing respect for critical knowledge as antidemocratic, gatekeeping "elitism" and the desire for aesthetic contemplation as "conservatism" — but anyhow, it's weird to see how consistently, even after a few days of this, you're still totally misrecognizing and mischaracterizing what people are saying in order to deliver another bien-pensant down-the-nose 'it's not your father's art museum!' lecture.

If we could've actually talked/thought more about the specific topic here — why so many people (especially people who care about modern art and know a lot about it) think that MoMA (specifically MoMA, not "museums") is taking a bad direction — I think this might have ended up as a more interesting discussion. But it seems instead to have turned into a pretty boring stalking horse for detached, abstracted museum-administration cheerleading.
posted by RogerB at 2:13 PM on January 23


You're really badly and persistently misreading the points of view in the thread, though, in the interest of arguing with a straw-man "point of view" which no one else is actually arguing.

It seems pretty clear that stagewhisper is in disagreement with me about the purpose of a museum, and her critique, at least, is that the museum is prioritizing something other than only art display. And again, I don't disrespect "critical knowledge." My take on museums also entails and is built on critical knowledge, after all. Finally, the desire for only aesthetic contemplation is, in fact, a conservative impulse in museums.

If we could've actually talked/thought more about the specific topic here — why so many people (especially people who care about modern art and know a lot about it) think that MoMA (specifically MoMA, not "museums") is taking a bad direction — I think this might have ended up as a more interesting discussion

Feel free to talk some more about this, if you like. I haven't seen any of that sort of specific discussion, really; instead, there has been focus on the idea that the plan is bad because it doesn't give the most square footage to art display. That's essentially what Saltz says, and unless I'm wrong, it's what stagewhisper is saying.
posted by Miko at 2:34 PM on January 23


I mean, why do you think MoMA is taking a bad direction, RogerB?
posted by Miko at 2:37 PM on January 23


I mean, if the erudite arguments of architecture critics like Filler and Kimmelman don't sway you, I don't see why my personal Internet comments should do any better (not that I agree with everything they say, to be clear). And it honestly seems unrewarding to put much effort into trying at this point, when you've already implied that you think (ridiculously) that wanting a museum to support visitors' aesthetic contemplation of its art works is contemptible and/or right-wing. But even the most ardent anti-intellectual relativist has to acknowledge that different uses of museums can't share in museum space on a level playing field; focused contemplation can't happen in an overcrowded, noisy space that runs constantly moving crowds of foot traffic across viewers' sightlines.

All I can say is that the Taniguchi MoMA seems to me like an institution in thrall to almighty Mammon and increasingly without even the vestige of a clue about the aesthetic experience that it should be its job to create; and the way its board and its architects talk, which is largely in the language of corporate managers, hucksters, and aesthetic philistines, doesn't even begin to convince me otherwise. The traffic flow is completely busted, with major masterpieces hanging in stairwells and corridors; the art is either treated as a spectacle to be shuffled by, or as mostly-ignored atrium furniture. There's a reason why shopping malls, airport terminals, and Disneyland are the metaphors everyone seems to reach for in describing the experience of visiting the museum: it's an environment which makes it nearly impossible to have a serious encounter with a work of art, because you can't even get a clear sightline to one without being shuffled into by crowds of people seemingly inattentive to either other people or works of art. The divide between members and hoi polloi also disturbs me (I should say, just to be clear that this isn't resentment talking, I'm a member); in another airport-like aspect of the experience, even the coat-check lines are now separate for first-class and second-class visitors.

Also, the institution itself seems to be almost as confused as this thread about whether it's a museum of "contemporary" art or of century-old Modernism; of course it has a glorious and irreplaceable collection of the latter, but it recently seems to treat it with what seems like neglect and/or contempt. Like several of these pieces said, it seems like the curatorial responsibility to the Modernist collection is dropping out of view as the whole institution wants to become PS1.
posted by RogerB at 7:33 PM on January 23


Setting aside your name-calling,

focused contemplation can't happen in an overcrowded, noisy space that runs constantly moving crowds of foot traffic across viewers' sightlines

In many museums, the way this is being handled is not with space design but with timeshifting and also with special access programs, from school and university programs that start earlier in the day to timed ticketing, patrons' events, and simple dayparting. In every museum, there are quieter hours and busier hours. Social events don't happen 24/7. People who don't enjoy social events have access to the museum the entire rest of the time. Rather than insisting on one type of experience for everyone all the time, museums are working to establish niches in the schedule where different kinds of experiences can be offered to audiences with different preferences.

Every NYC art museum, and most major art museums, are "in thrall to almighty Mammon" in the US, because we have very paltry funding available from more public sources, either state, foundation, or earned. You can't get away from that.

the aesthetic experience that it should be its job to create

Again, you're assuming that its job is to create the aesthetic experience. That assumes there is one primary aesthetic experience and MoMA should just deliver the type of experience you expect. But there is not one aesthetic experience. MoMA has many jobs, outlined in the mission I copied above.

it's an environment which makes it nearly impossible to have a serious encounter with a work of art, because you can't even get a clear sightline to one without being shuffled into by crowds of people seemingly inattentive to either other people or works of art.

Well, let's leave aside what other people are choosing to do, which is none of your business really. But I agree with you that overcrowding is a big, big problem at MoMA - its central problem, really. This is why I think expansion is a good idea. Expansion could help relieve some of this crowding, and adding non-gallery space is a smart way to do it. If they added 100% gallery space, a given day's attendance would be forced to all be in galleries all the time. By adding space that is for other purposes - respite, amenities, shops, food, circulation, seating to counter museum fatigue - they are increasing the likelihood that people will spend some of their time occupying other kinds of spaces, both reducing the press of people in the galleries and also allowing visitors to return to the galleries physically and mentally refreshed, after the rest every 90 minutes or so that we know to support renewed attention and access to the numinous type of experience you most value.

The divide between members and hoi polloi also disturbs me (I should say, just to be clear that this isn't resentment talking, I'm a member)...even the coat-check lines are now separate for first-class and second-class visitors.

Understood. The coat check has to be the worst-managed such facility in any museum or perhaps in fact in any place of public accommodation in NYC. When I am standing there I often feel like I am in some sort of theatre-of-the-absurb immersion in commentary on the inefficiency of the Soviets or something. It's quite a spectacle and a form of hell all its own, and the "hacks" the staff come up with tend to just be the flailings of the overwhelmed and seem pretty counterproductive. It's something a redesign could clean up. But to the larger picture, members vs. nonmembers. First, MoMA (and all big NYC museums) are in a unique quandary because a very large component of their visitation will visit only once in their lives, or at most a very few times. Those people will love their visit and most will pay an admission, but that's not enough for MoMA to survive on. So MoMA does need a mechanism to engage and maintain the participation of the regulars who make several visits a year, every year. Easing their access is a big incentive; it might not mean much to you, but it is a big driver of participation in the membership premium for most members, and if/when an benefit like this is taken away, there is quite a hue and cry. Most museums with membership programs give members a price break on programs, admission for guests, and other things that people who use the museum regularly find valuable. Oddly enough, most membership programs don't make the museum money directly. Most operate at a wash (the cost of the membership cancels out the cost of member services). But membership does help the museum by encouraging loyalty, by increasing earned revenue through multiple visits, and by creating a pool of people who can be solicited for the larger donations needed each year to make the annual fund and contribute to the occasional capital campaign. Membership can also be a tool to help with the stem-valve problem, overcrowding; members are a group that can be easily identified to invite to early opening and late closing, to special viewing opportunities of the kind you most enjoy, etc.

In general, it is very, very hard to reconcile the desire you have for a quiet, private, uninterrupted gaze at artworks with the desire you also seem to have for democratic access and opportunity. This is at the heart of the difficulty and why decisions about museum design and programming are so fiendishly complex. Not only does everyone not want the same thing you want from a museum (and their perspectives are as important as yours), but even you don't want the same thing you want from a museum. Criticizing MoMA for both overcrowding and exclusion, for instance, puts you in a double bind. But you're in good company; it puts everyone who manages a museum in a double bind (and most would love to have MoMA's problem that too many people love it).

Perhaps the future will see a continued splintering of MoMA into satellite MoMAs, with its main campus, its PS1, and perhaps several other installations of specific collections. Placing some of its holdings in far-flung locations would provide opportunities for quiet contemplation. The Cloisters, for instance, is a great place for a meditative museum experience, once you get yourself up to the Bronx. Not being involved in making solutions for MoMA, I don't have any of their data and can't really generate good ideas, but I agree with you that the visit as it is now is not ideal. That's why I think expanding is smart.

I agree that MoMA is struggling with where the line between "modern" and "contemporary" is - an intellectual and curatorial problem for them that I am not that much concerned with here.

Finally, RogerB, I'd like you to stop calling me "confused" and suggesting I don't understand these issues. That's essentially gaslighting, and I outright reject these attempts. I am not confused; I'm currently finishing my Master's degree in museum studies and have been in this field a dozen years; I frequently teach and write on issues of visitor access and learning, and track developments in the field closely in the professional literature. I'm very well informed, widely informed, and have a professional perspective on these issues. Architecture and art critics are important voices, but are not automatically revered as deities within the worlds of museums as they are, apparently, outside of that realm. They do have some power over public perception (as this discussion attests), and we read and consider their words, but we don't bow down to them as ultimate arbiters of what is good and right. Museums are far too complex an enterprise for such voices to have final authority over what they do. This is an interdisciplinary field that takes a broad perspective on the museum experience, and there is a wider range of critical voices that are important, so it's not incongruous that just because an art critic said XYZ I might not see the need to bow down to their presumably superior wisdom. After all, conflicts over the ideas they dealing with are the bread and butter of my every day, as we slowly shift to pay more attention to how art is received, understood, experienced and used by its widest public.
posted by Miko at 6:01 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


Oh, one more thought - I'm also in an excellent position to comment on the intellectual history and politics of museum access, having read (extensively) and written on these issues at points dating from the imperial collections of the ancient world through the private academic cabinets of curiosity, the princely collections of Europe's nation-states, the birth of the national museum and its academic tradition, the movements of the Progressive era and the reigning philosophies of the later 20th century. And despite perceptions about contemporary alignments, the impetus to restrict access has always originated from the powerful and privileged (even where the privilege is one of academic training and specialty knowledge). I mean, when has wealth not sought to establish and defend the preferred experience of the few and exclude the projects and presence of the many?

I think there's an interesting conversation to be had about whether maximal access has indeed been co-opted, at least in some instances, into a dumb-show justifying the movements of immense sums of money. I could speak at length about some of the ways the structures of foundation giving, for instance, have bridged those two purposes. After all, the art market is the largest unregulated financial market in the world, and its interactions with the business world are many and often shady. I don't disagree with that point of view, and a complex of these forces has probably overdetermined the move toward wider access. But at the same time, that should not obscure the legitimate intellectual tradition - definitely a left-leaning one - favoring variety of experience, the honoring of a range of purposes regarding art/objects, and breadth in museum access. Again, this is not an area where I'm "confused."

I was also going to suggest that since you are a member, you encapsulate your thoughts and send them to your membership liaison. Though you probably don't have to go to the trouble, since MoMA's PR team has, I'm sure, already found this thread and added it to the pile.
posted by Miko at 6:30 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


I think a big part of the whining about how MoMA (in particular) is overcrowded, and people just go there to be seen, and they're appreciating the art all wrong is that, for 2-3 years a decade ago -- leading up to the "new" Taniguchi MoMA that these people all love to hate on -- there was no MoMA proper.

Instead, there was MoMA Queens. MoMA Queens had some of MoMA's collection on display, but for a lot of reasons, many of the greatest hits were on loan to other museums. MoMA Queens was in Long Island City, so comparatively few tourists and casual viewers visited. It was a much smaller museum, and a sort of quiet, rarefied environment were Art World types could have a very specific sort of experience, something much more in line with a smaller museum like Dia Beacon.

After that, you get the unveiling of the current iteration of MoMA. This happens in a setting where a lot of people have been without MoMA for a while and have nostalgized it as something it probably never was, a lot of other people really enjoyed the quieter MoMA Queens style environment, and just about everybody felt that irritating and cranky "New Facebook" feeling that this was DIFFERENT and ANNOYING and UGH AND WORST EVER for no particular reason than that it wasn't exactly how they think they remember the museum being before it closed for renovations.

Because a lot of New York City museums are facing the same issues we're talking about in this thread. A lot of museums are playing around with real estate deals. A lot of museums have evolving missions ("Modern" vs. "Contemporary", focusing on objects and gallery space vs. other things, changing the ways they work with the community, etc.). A lot of museums are expanding. A lot of museums are changing the ways they handle crowds. A lot of museums have much worse labor problems than MoMA does. Every issue being faced by MoMA right now is being faced by some other NYC museum that isn't under this level of scrutiny, and I feel like a lot of that is because of MoMA's specific recent history of renovation and mission shift.
posted by Sara C. at 9:50 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


The Art Museum Today, In Discussion, a white paper proceeding from a summit lat year of the Association of Art Museum Directors.
posted by Miko at 8:50 AM on January 25


MOMA's Proposal for Sculpture Garden Pleases and Riles

posted by Miko at 7:08 PM on February 9


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