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16.11.04

Le nouveau MoMA

Well, all the cool kids in Blogistan are talking about the new MoMA, so I guess I'll bring you a European perspective on the expensive remodeling and, consequently, entrance fee. Here is a translation (with links added) of an article by Valérie Duponchelle (Le MoMA, musée du futur [MoMA, museum of the future], November 15) for Le Figaro (with three pictures, if you follow that link):

The new MoMA is here. And with this New York giant that claims simply "to have the most important collection of modern and contemporary art in the world," it's time to see how post-9/11 America comes through on that claim. Faithful to its legendary dynamism, as Hollywood is sure of its Matrix effect, here is America setting out to reinvent the museum, to shake up the conventional thinking about the established chronology of collections and radically rejuvenate art history. The new MoMA begins the 21st century with the most contemporary art, the same art that drove the feverish New York auctions skyhigh. It is proudly showing its new purchases—the latest pieces date from 2003 with the South African William Kentridge and the Ethiopian-American Julie Mehretu—and goes back through the progress of its masterpieces to culminate on the 5th floor with Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, painted by Picasso in 1907 and purchased in 1939 by the very young MoMA, barely 10 years old. A revolution for the eye and the spirit.

From the Atrium, on the ground floor, the space is presented, opening up like the heart of a pyramd on the whole of the building. You can see, through a high narrow window, the zig-zag of the stairs and the intense blue of Matisse's La Danse. It serves as an anchoring point as you pass through toward the vast rooms dedicated first to contemporary art and then, on the upper level, modern art. There are very few works in this Atrium, but what works they are! They are the backbone of this new museum project: on a long, bare wall Monet's Water Lilies blossom, so modern and vigorous, in which we rediscover movement; across from that, a large De Kooning, brimming with vitality; in the middle, an ode to America by Jasper Johns in 1992 to 1995 and another by Brice Marden with Vine, a superb oil from 1992 to 1993; in the center, a sculpture, as simple as a zip, by Barnett Newman from 1963 to 1967, placed there like the obelisk of the age. The first room, as high-ceilinged as a cathedral, is the most anticipated, as well as the least expected. Those who come to the MoMA to admire Van Gogh's Starry Night, the Boy Leading a Horse (the fabulous Picasso that eclipsed the Boy with a Pipe at more than $100 million at Sotheby's in May), or even Rousseau's The Sleeping Gypsy will discover the strange worlds of American Matthew Barney (the video artist, photographer, and sculptor born in 1967) through his Cabinet of Baby Fay la Foe, a work from 2000 purchased in the same year. [...]

The public will be, for once, excused from paying, on Saturday, November 20, for the official reopening, the $20 entrance fee, a brutal price hike that made the New York press scream. Eager to discover the new face of this bastion of American art, sober in architecture like an office building, swept by city lights by the interplay of asymmetrical windows and immense skylights, the public can at least gauge for itself the watchword of this colossal project: the "readability" of a museum that wants to look toward the future, that leaves the breviaries to the libraries, the meditation on the 14 stations of the cross to the churches, and the old attitudes to Europe.
The rest of the article covers a number of other pieces and their new context, while noting at one point the absence of works by French artists. (Annette Messager and Aurélie Nemours are two of the big French names recently featured here.) There is some French perspective on the new museum in Judith Benhamou-Huet's pre-opening interview with MoMA director Glenn Lowry (Un musée pour le XXIe siècle: Le MoMa de New York, November 5) in Le Point. It is that interview that is quoted in the Le Figaro article (Lowry made the claim: "MoMA has a simple mandate: to have the most important collection in the world. I believe that in qualitative terms, that's the case today.") When asked by the interviewer, what he thought of the French National Museum of Modern Art (in the Centre Pompidou), he replied that, while the two museums are in similar positions, MoMa has had the world's most important collection, "since the last 50-some years." He continues, "I don't know what the Beaubourg's acquisitions budget is, but I am certain that we spend much more in order to buy what we have to buy."

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