Why Does MoMA Need More Space?

by Paddy Johnson on May 12, 2011 · 4 comments Newswire

At long last, Glenn Lowry has responded to the ongoing complaints that MoMA’s new space resembles a crowded shopping mall: they’ll make it a larger shopping mall! Tuesday night, MoMA neighbor the American Folk Art Museum announced it would relocate back to its former home in Lincoln Center’s lobby, citing financial stress from dwindling foot traffic and debts acquired through their 2001 renovation. MoMA will buy their building.

This is sad news for the Folk Art Museum, but MoMA’s move isn’t too much of a surprise – the museum has been talking about expanding almost as long as it’s been back on 53rd Street. Though the plans were put on hold in 2009, over 60,000 square feet of exhibition space in a 54th Street multi-use skyscraper were once slated for development, and in 2010 Lowry told Art + Auction that he hadn’t abandoned his plans to grow the museum. It’s unclear what will happen to the 54th Street expansion project now that space has opened up next door.

I have mixed feelings about MoMA’s latest real estate ventures. While I generally feel more museum is better, based on what I’ve seen, the museum’s expansion has just as much to do with making room for visitors as it does for art. I suppose that’s a good problem to have, but I worry that we’re going to get more MoMA megaplex for our woes. That is, a full mid-town block of corporate walls that handle art and people the way Google treats its users: impersonally.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but that’s not what I’m looking for in art. I suppose this reflects my biases — I spend more time visiting smaller galleries and chatting with artists because I like my viewing experience to be more personal — but it’s not like museums can’t offer that as well. The Brooklyn Museum constantly engages their community — last year they had weekly Work of Art screenings at a local bar. Can you imagine MoMA every connecting with their visitors at that level? Me neither.


  • There’s a lot of talk over at NYMagazine about whether the Folk Art Museum’s building killed its chances for survival, most of which I think is off point. I never cared for their skinny building either, but the New Museum has the same problems and I still visit. Museums become destinations through a combination of great shows and strong marketing. The Folk Art Museum had only the former, and inconsistently at that.
  • The Met will take over The Whitney’s old space on 77th Street. I hope they’ll use the building to showcase more contemporary art, but we’ll see. The Whitney’s contemporary shows very much felt constrained by the size of their building. I doubt that would be any different.



Jesse P. Martin May 12, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Maybe the ever-expanding MoMA can infuse-the-personal throughout their thronged halls by having Artist Staring Stations established at regular intervals throughout the facility. That
way, if a visitor starts to feel too alienated, they can get a fix of
silent soul-sustenance by sitting across a real live artist (paid by the
hour @ minimum wage, frequently cycled for freshness). To my understanding, the museum floated a trial balloon of this type of
initiative around this time last year, and the response was
overwhelmingly positive.

HES May 12, 2011 at 10:09 pm

While I worked at the Folk Art Museum our attempts at expanding marketing were always rebuffed by an ossified old guard and a consistent misguided cry of poverty. After Brooke Anderson left as curator the most dynamic voice for engaging exhibitions that sought to connect folk and visionary art to contemporary ‘in’ practices vanished, and the solution they came upon to staunch the money flow was to cut and disincentivise junior staff, the people working hard to develop youth awareness of the collection. The whole thing has been a slow motion tragedy. With the block being overtaken by a hypocritical mega-art consumerism, AFAM really let a chance to shift awareness of the history of art towards a more human scale slip through. I don’t believe it was too herculean an effort to try harder.

Adam Zucker May 13, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Good points, I agree with your concerns. However I’d like to play devils advocate (or artworld optimist) with regards to MoMA expanding its space next door. Firstly, I feel that there will be an opening in art jobs as a result to the expansion. But more importantly this can be a great chance for MoMA to permanently show its collection of contemporary art since 1980 in the new “wing”. They could potentially hang their works from the late 70’s including but not limited to Dennis Oppenheim, Agnes Denes, Carolee Schneemann, Robert Smithson ect…The 80s with David Wojnarowicz, Basquiat, Harring, ect….90s….and so on…Do I think that this will happen, nope…probably just more of the same thing to accommodate more donors/visitors/capitol….

korper May 14, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Loving this post & the comments.  This is certainly one of those complex situations that can’t be summed up in a thumbs-up-or-down reaction.  Is it sad that the Folk Art Museum is losing this space?  Absolutely, but it’s also sad that they never found a way to connect with a larger audience (how can an art venue NEXT DOOR to one of the world’s most popular art destinations fail to find an art audience?).  It’s also good, in a way, that MoMA will have more space for its massive collection, but like you say, they run a real risk of becoming a soulless megaplex (if they aren’t already).  In the endless debate over museums vs. galleries, I think this move will do nothing to  sway more people into the “museum” camp.

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