Exhibit of the week
The new and reimagined Museum of Modern Art
A century after it remade the way Americans see the world, “we are finally beginning to outgrow modernism,” said Jerry Saltz in NYMag.com. This week, the home of the world’s greatest collection of modern art reopened after another dramatic expansion, and the institution’s latest triumph also announces a capitulation. The new Museum of Modern Art in midtown Manhattan has grown by nearly a third, and it still displays Picassos, Matisses, and Rothkos that can take your breath away. But it has decisively turned away from one of the central tenets of the modernist movement: that progress is the goal of all art and that the only artists who matter are those who advance the story, usually by rejecting what came before. To be sure, MoMA “won’t be changing that much.” It can’t, and shouldn’t, mothball its masterpieces. But it appears determined to reframe modernism—and its cult of the white male artist—by putting its giants in conversation with various other art traditions.
“The curators don’t just rewrite art history,” said Alexandra Peers in Architectural Digest. “They’ve turned it into a website: subject to change, to customization, even, with brighter images and more detours.” This new MoMA serves up “a choose-your-adventure history of art,” encouraging you to wander the galleries happening upon gorgeous thing after gorgeous thing, few gathered together under formerly familiar labels like dadaism and abstract expressionism. “At its best, the new MoMA highlights artists who had rightly inspired inside-art-world cults but weren’t widely known.” Ana Mendieta, the Cuban-born pioneer of so-called earth-body art, and Mexican surrealist Leonora Carrington both win prominent display, to name just two. Elsewhere, Picasso’s landmark 1907 canvas Les Demoiselles d’Avignon now hangs alongside a mammoth 1967 Faith Ringgold painting inspired by the bloody 1965 Los Angeles race riots.
But while the canon has needed to be rethought and expanded, the museum’s abdication of its storytelling function could be a disaster, said Philip Kennicott in The Washington Post. People want to learn, not just look, and if MoMA doesn’t tell stories that incorporate new or unrecognized talents, that will only increase the institution’s dependence on the iconic works that have long drawn annual visitors in the millions. Still, no one should worry much yet about the new MoMA’s “dumbed-down” gallery headings or uncertainty about how to guide viewers, said Roberta Smith in The New York Times. “The rethinking is not done,” and because the museum is now committed to swapping out a third of the works displayed in its permanent collection galleries every six months, stasis is impossible. “This is only the beginning of a new beginning,” and the path ahead looks promising. ■