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Letter: Director argues MoMA is misrepresented

From Glenn D. Lowry, Director of The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Mark Irving’s article (The Art Newspaper, No.152, November 2004, p.24) aims to be a serious analysis of the renovated Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), but fails to grasp two essential components of the project: the architectural design, and the re-installation of the collection.

By comparing the black granite used on the facade of the building with the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, DC, Mr Irving implies that the museum has become a tomb, encased in its own stasis. Nothing could be further from the reality of the actual building, which integrates panels of black granite with monumental glass windows that overlook the street, providing passersby the ability to see into the heart of the institution and its collections. This openness and transparency is echoed in the interior where a series of windows and bridges permit visitors to see from one area of the museum to another, so that the entire building reads as a series of interconnected parts, a microcosm of the city, as Taniguchi intended.

Mr Irving misinterpreted my remarks about the re-installation of the collection. When I mentioned that Warhol was a key figure of the 1960s and 1970s and that many younger artists drew inspiration from his work, finding Pollock and his generation less relevant, that in no way meant that the museum shares that assessment. Indeed, Pollock is considered so pivotal a figure in the history of modern art that his work is given an entire gallery within the installation.

Similarly, Mr Irving has made misleading use of my comments about the positioning of Signac’s portrait of Felix Feneon in the painting and sculpture galleries. At the time of Mr Irving’s visit to New York, the installation was in process and was not able to be viewed. What I found interesting about John Elderfield’s decision to position Signac’s portrait facing the visitor in the first gallery, instead of Cézanne’s “The bather”, as in previous installations, was the presentation of an inherently contemporary subject—a portrait of a critic and collector. The proximity of Signac and Cézanne demonstrates a finely calibrated and thoughtful juxtaposition by Mr Elderfield that makes clear the many sources of modern art. To suggest that MoMA has “recast the history of modern art as seen from our times, with showmanship and celebrity as the dominant thread”, may indicate Mr Irving’s own musings about modern art but in no way reflects the museum’s position or the installation of the collection. Had Mr Irving waited to view the installation, he would have understood the full context and avoided such presumptive speculation.

- Glenn D. Lowry, Director of The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'MoMA misrepresented'