Visiting the Museum of Modern Art, was among my earliest childhood memories, perhaps predating school. It was there that I was introduced to some of the great paintings and sculptures that have moved me, given me joy and a lifelong passion for art. I remember the treat of eating lunch with my parents out on the penthouse terrace of the Edward Durell Stone building or walking up and down the interior staircase that is forever etched in my brain. I remember seeing Picasso's Guernica, housed temporarily there when the artist was on the outs with his native Spain. Perhaps I wasn't a pre-schooler the first time I came to MoMA, but my sons most certainly were and there is no doubt that the experience also left a lasting imprint.
I had the great pleasure of previewing the new MoMA last evening. If its previous expansions sometimes struck a dissonant chord -- seemingly more appendages than integrated parts, this reincarnation is a cohesive exhilarating symphony. Unlike other efforts, the 2004 MoMA is really new from top to bottom. Perhaps behind the walls are skeletal remains of the old but, aside from the sculpture garden, you would be hard pressed to identify them. What you will find is elegant and ample space. Whether typography or painting, the visual always thrives on the air around it, and the new MoMA provides plenty of that. You never feel the sense of being crowded or confined and happily neither are the paintings or sculptures. The architecture doesn't shout with any egocentric "look at me". Rather it reveals, and in a very intriguing way. On each floor one can peek over railings or through "windows" and get a glimpse of what was seen or is about to be seen on another level, not to mention the city which it embraces rather than hides. The walls are filled with old friends, but somehow even those appear as if never seen before. The new MoMA is visually fresh and more importantly it provides, even demands, a fresh look.
I remember when Yoshio Taniguchi was awarded the MoMA project. It wasn't that the man wasn't qualified. He had created nine museums (models of which can be seen as part of the opening exhibits). But some MoMA loyalists had hoped for a Frank Gehry sculpture-edifice or a Frank Lloyd Wright layer cake – something that would stand out against the cityscape. It was around the time when everyone was rhapsodizing about Bilbao. As to Wright's Guggenheim, it's the only museum that I really hate. To be sure the building is striking, though it still seems out of place in its 5th Avenue context, but that narrow ramp simply isn't conducive to viewing art, especially larger canvases. I haven't seen Bilbao yet, but its notoriety caused me to think a great deal about the role of museum architecture. I have been to the new Tate in London, a spare warehouse of a place and to the Getty in LA, like the new MoMA an elegant but visually understated building. In both cases, the architects seemed more interested in showcasing the works inside (even though the Getty collection disappoints) than in asserting their own signature. Far be it for me to discount the sheer architectural brilliance of Gehry or Wright both of whom I admire greatly, but I am in the Taniguchi and company school. I don't want a museum's architecture to distract me but to facilitate the best possible viewing of all those collected treasures. For that reason alone, I love the new MoMA, can't wait to return and hope you'll get there soon to share my pleasure.