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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

MoMA Impressions

I've outlined a piece about MoMA's new home that I plan to write as time allows this week. But here are some preliminary impressions.

The first installation isn't perfect, but there's a lot to like--not the least of which is Chief Curator John Elderfield's willingness to admit that it will take some time for the staff to get used to the space. That said, he has nothing to apologize for. While attendees at today's press preview will all find nits to pick, it's hard to find anything serious to fault.

So, to get this out of the way, here are my two.

Cezanne's The Bather didn't have to open the painting and sculpture galleries, but if Paul Signac's Portrait of M. Félix Fénéon requires a Met-sized wall text to explain its significance, it's probably not the right piece for the job. (View into the first gallery at right.)

Monet's Reflection of Clouds on Water-Lily Pond doesn't show nearly as well in the atrium as it did in its old home. Phrases I overheard people use to describe it included "cold," "poorly lit," and "not intimate enough." It gets overwhelmed by the space instead of overwhelming the viewer with its presence. (See photo above left.)

But enough of that. It's MoMA's week, and there's plenty to celebrate. Here are a few highlights.

A monumental Cy Twombly chalkboard painting that has more than enough space to breathe in the massive contemporary galleries. (Seeing this piece in this space is worth $20 by itself.)

A sculpture garden that is looking better than ever.

Having a chance to see old friends again.

But it's not just old friends on display. MoMA has made a massive number of new acquisitions in conjunction with the building campaign (upwards of 1000 pieces, the word is), and several of them are on display for the first time, including two works that were hits of this year's Whitney Biennial--Julie Mehretu's Empirical Construction, Istanbul (at right) and Eve Sussman's video work 89 Seconds at Alcázar. (Headline: "MoMA Eats Whitney's Lunch.")

But the day wasn't a total MoMA love fest. Our friends from FrEE MoMA were out on 53rd St. dressed as the museum's admission fee. Tyler Green from MAN, first with the scoop both in the blogosphere and in the real-time world of live action museum protesting, pulled me out of the atrium to get a snapshot shortly after the cops arrived. Cell phone calls to lawyers and radio contact with the precinct ensued. FrEE MoMA stayed put for the day, but so did the cops. (Update: If you're either just curious or you're affiliated with MoMA and are building a black list, Barry names names.)

The stunt got a lot of play, including a live interview on WNYC. Upstairs, journalists grilled MoMA director Glenn Lowry on the $20 admission. I sat in on portions of three group interviews with Lowry, and in each one the topic of the admission fee generated several questions and passionate follow up. (And, no, it wasn't me asking the same questions each time.)

And, by the way Tyler, the quote from Target was better than you remembered it. I made sure to get it down verbatim because it was such a groaner. What the Target VP actually said from the podium was, "Design is a huge part of Target's DNA." But because Target is funding four years of free Fridays, we'll let this one slide, right?

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