The Museum of Modern Art's relentless expansion since moving to its permanent home on West 53rd Street in 1939 has transformed its Midtown Manhattan neighborhood.
In an early review of the MOMA's latest renovation, opening Oct. 21, ace New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman shows how the museum turned over the years into one of New York City's insatiable real estate brokers.
The $450 million project adds 47,000 feet of exhibition space, allowing MOMA to display more of its permanent collection. It also adds a performance stage, a rooftop restaurant and a dramatic canopy. On the negative side, the MOMA's sculpture garden will be less accessible.
One of MOMA's most touted additions is a gallery for changing exhibits, visible from the street and free to visitors. Alas, MOMA had to tear down the American Museum of Folk Art to build the new space.
The MOMA expansion continues major museums' race to grow bigger and attract more visitors. The MOMA turns ever more corporate as its masterpieces speak against capitalism's ravages. Co-founded by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s wife, the museum has navigated between those poles since its beginning.
Kimmelman's review implies that the project by Diller Scofido +Refro, in collaboration with Gensler, undoes mistakes from Yoshio Taniguchi's widely criticized 2004 expansion. Taniguchi's work led to crowded hallways and escalators as the museum's visitors surpassed 3 million a year, as Kimmelman details. The new MOMA will ease traffic flow. Earlier expansions had been done by Philip Johnson and Cesar Pelli.
When the MOMA moved to West 53rd Street in 1939, the area consisted of low-rise rowhouses, Kimmelman says. The MOMA's six-story home of white marble, clad in a new kind of insulated glass called Thermolux, according to the MOMA's web site, transformed the street like the landing of a spaceship, as Kimmelman said.
Now, skyscrapers in that part of Midtown soar toward the sky, blotting out the sun. Owned by foreign oligarchs, many of the outlandish high-rises remain vacant, killing the area's small businesses.
Conceived as a palace of modern art, the MOMA with its real estate hunger has enervated the area's vitality. Monstrosities rising to an inhuman scale, empty storefronts and a corporate uniformity have replaced interesting shops and middle-class homes.
Art lovers will flock to the MOMA, which expects an increase to 3.5 million annual visitors. The main interest for many will still be taking selfies before Van Gogh's "Starry Night," as Kimmelman notes.