American Museums

The once and future MoMA: The museum's double role plays out across two exhibitions

Across two venues MoMA presents one exhibition examining the past, while a collaboration on another focuses on the future of art

Since opening in 1929, the Museum of Modern Art has been Janus-faced: its commitment to the art of the moment makes it a forward-looking institution, but by forming and preserving a modern art canon, MoMA is also retrospective by nature. This double role is played out in two venues this month as the museum presents one exhibition examining the past, while collaborating on another at P.S. 1 about the future of art. At MoMA, “Making Choices” will be the second segment of MoMA 2000, the trilogy of museum-wide exhibitions from the permanent collection (The Art Newspaper, No. 98, December 1999, p. 7). The series is MoMA’s swan song of symphonic proportions: if “Modern Starts: People, Places, Things” was a sweeping introduction to the broader themes of modern art, then “Making Choices” is the second movement, where these ideas develop (still to come is the grand finale, “Open Ends”). The exhibition contains twenty-one installations that explore divergent cultural currents from 1920 to 1960. They illustrate movements (such as mirror exhibitions about the New York and Paris salons and “Modern Art Despite Modernism”); artistic elements (“How simple can you get”, about the evolution of abstraction and “Anatomically incorrect”, focusing on Surrealist and other disjointed representations of the body) and specific artists (for example, a group of Giorgio Morandi etchings and “Walker Evans and Company”). Meanwhile, a year after announcing a merger between MoMA and the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, Queens, the two collaborate for the first time in “Greater New York” at P.S. 1. This vast survey of current trends includes the work of 140 young artists working in the five boroughs of New York. They range from Inka Essenhigh, Elizabeth Peyton and Tony Matelli—who have attracted rave reviews for their recent dealer shows—to new artists whose names, if not their work, will be unrecognisable to the average visitor. Since its inception in 1971, P.S. 1 has been no stranger to exhibiting and supporting emerging artists. “Greater New York”, however, is a significant departure for MoMA, which has always given space to individual contemporary artists in their “Projects” room but has never attempted a survey of cutting edge art on such a scale. On this subject, MoMA director Glenn Lowry recently remarked that had they attempted such an exhibition on their own it would have taken three years to prepare, but with the collaboration of Alanna Heiss (the director of P.S. 1) and her staff, it took a mere three months. The exhibition coincides with MoMA’s purchase of a disused staple factory in Queens to be converted into exhibition space by architect Michael Maltzan.