The new partnership between MoMA and P.S. 1 across the East River bridges gaps for both institutions

“I believe the future of this museum lies in the depth of its commitment to contemporary art,” says MoMA director Glenn Lowry


Last month, New York’s Museum of Modern Art announced a bold plan to merge with P.S 1 Center for Contemporary Art in Long Island City, Queens, the twenty-eight year-old kunsthalle known for its cutting-edge contemporary art programme. “It was the perfect fit for us. The two institutions will remain artistically independent entities,” says MoMA’s director, Glenn D. Lowry. “This merger dramatically increases MoMA’s programme and interest in contemporary art. It gives us a window to the community of contemporary artists, and a window onto Queens.” Lowry notes that MoMA had already planned a warehouse and office facility near P.S. 1. The P.S. 1 facilities include 10,000 feet of exhibition space in a converted school, a studio programme, and the Clocktower Gallery in lower Manhattan.

P.S. 1 had been struggling financially after an $8.5 million renovation two years ago. MoMA will offer economic support, but MoMA hopes the city will continue to contribute one-third to one-half of P.S. 1’s annual $1.5 million to $2 million in operating costs. With the merging, P.S. 1’s director Alanna Heiss remains in charge of the institution she founded, but Ms Heiss also becomes a deputy director of the Museum of Modern Art, reporting to Mr Lowry. The merger is another move in the chess game of New York modern art museums, which has seen the Whitney open and close satellite branches in different neighbourhoods, and the Guggenheim’s expansion into SoHo and rumoured plans for a Hudson River addition. Mr Lowry, however, is quick to dismiss the obvious comparisons. “I don’t think the Guggenheim in any way, shape, or form provides a model for what we want to do,” he says.

Mr Lowry says he has been impressed with P.S 1 since he arrived in New York from the Art Gallery of Ontario four years ago, pointing to ground-breaking exhibitions like the recent P.S. 1 show of contemporary Chinese art. “Alanna and I had been talking about doing something together for several years, a partnership or a joint programme. Finally we said, ‘Why don’t we just merge?’ Some things happen quickly and effectively, and this one did.”

A decade ago, nobody would have associated MoMA with cutting-edge trends in contemporary art, but that is an impression the museum now seeks to change. “I believe the future of this museum lies in the depth of its commitment to contemporary art,” says Mr Lowry. “It is a focus that has been steadily developing over the last years.” The P.S. 1 merger does not influence MoMA’s extension plans—the museum has raised more than half of the $650 million they require for a planned new building and capital campaign. In fact, some MoMA insiders suggest that one motive for the quick merge is that the PS 1 galleries might give MoMA curators a place to exhibit when the main museum temporarily shuts it doors.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'All that rises must converge'