*By Gustavo Von Ha in New York
UOne of the first institutions in the US dedicated exclusively to the exhibition of modern art, the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), emerged in the late 1920s, initially conceived as a museum in constant change. In the words of founding director Alfred H. Barr Jr. himself, “a torpedo moving in time-space with its nose always advancing from the present and its tail reaching a recent past of at most 100 years ago”. The idea was that as the MoMA collection aged, its works would be recycled, selling those over fifty years old to other museums – such as the Metropolitan and the Whitney – while works by emerging artists would continue to be purchased.
Since 2014, MoMA has been undergoing an expansion process. This renovation goes far beyond the museum's new “west wing”: the former MoMA has merged seamlessly with the extra 14.000 square meters. Walking through the museum, you can no longer see where the new part begins and ends. The real value of the expansion of the “new MoMA” is to rescue its initial mission, a space that allows rethinking the collection, transforming the artistic experience into critical thinking within the museum, and questioning the way this collection has been presented until today, discovering new voices. and new perspectives.
MoMA has often been bold in the way it positions itself when inserting American artists into broader narratives of art history. An example of this is the case of Jackson Pollock, who for decades stayed in the room next to Monet's, equating these two artists with the apex of art history and forcing a partial reading when projecting an American artist in the history of world art.
If the “new MoMA” is based on the first idea of its foundation – less formalist, perhaps – it now leaves gaps between works confronted with each other, taking away the possibility of systematically comparing what was produced before and after. At the same time, MoMA now enables a freer experience, by making and allowing new connections with works from the collection in constant dialogue with new works.
In its new rearrangement, the museum places photographs on the same level as paintings, allowing us to look at the collection in another way. What used to be always shown in isolated nuclei or underground, is now mixed with paintings, drawings, engravings and performances. There are films playing everywhere, even in the galleries that still hold the “masterpieces” of modernism.
It is still possible to contemplate a single work in some galleries, but with its new configuration the museum radically opens up to live rehearsals inside the Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Studio, where there is always something unexpected happening from time to time. It is a new space dedicated to performance and new experiences of moving image, fundamental to insert the MoMA collection in a current historical perspective through new projects and emerging artists.
Although the presentation still has a chronological tone, it brings ambiguities, anachronisms and some surprises. Galleries now speak of ideas and epochs and no longer in categories and avant-gardes. The conceptual question is the new thread, inaugurating a museum that is more permeable and more aligned with today's world.
This can raise two questions: the very transformation of art historiography regarding how its methodologies and theories are thought; and artistic training, as the vast majority of people who access a museum today do not have an art history training and are there for an experience that transcends any nomenclature or technical file. So how to deal with this new approach to the public inside a museum? How to access this new dispersed human being and at the same time with the whole world just a click away?
Today's audience divides their attention between the works on the walls and their phones. Today the world presents itself through images, the idea of contemplation has changed radically since the emergence of smartphones. The keys are different, almost everyone is familiar with the works that are in the museum even before the experience of being in front of them; the works that are in the museum are also reproduced outside the museum, they are simultaneously on cell phones, computers, magazines and newspapers. In addition to critical texts that reinforce the idea of the work giving us other access keys. When we finally have the real experience, it's like a déjà vu, that strange feeling of having experienced it before. There are several mediators in the relationship between the imaginary museum and the real museum.
The MoMA collection has more than 200 pieces and now also offers browsing and digital search, making it possible to access images of around 81 works online. Even this new audience that is already conditioned to see everything online may notice cross-cuts in the associations of the images displayed both in the museum and on the museum's website.
In a contemporary logic dictated by algorithms, the new MoMA also changed its logic to review the art of the last century. Today it is impossible to look at a job ignoring the reality around it. All social, identity, color and gender guidelines are also inevitably connected to these works that can now be read and re-signified on the way back to the past.
From there, the institution begins to replace the idea of a “masterpiece” with a more permeable type of narrative, providing more democratic readings, where each one can enter with their own keys to the works presented, despite the entrance fee of 25 dollars. , except on Fridays between 17:30 pm and 21:00 pm when entries are sponsored by a company.
A new narrative about modern art is emerging with associations of seemingly unlikely works. For decades, MoMA curators have associated Picasso's work with nuclei by Cubists such as Georges Braque, or Surrealists in one room and geometric abstraction in another room. Now the strategy is to conceptually use some work and from there group works from different categories in the same gallery, confronted in the same space. This was unthinkable until a few decades ago, as it breaks with the (hegemonic) narrative invented by the museum itself and further enhances the contemporary dispersion packaged by the public that is born from this logic of the network. This contributes to the formation of future generations within a dynamic that refuses to accept just one version of history. MoMA is less plastered, it seems to be trying to get rid of the modernist issues that still haunt the entire art system. In this way, it also seems to want to redeem itself from an authoritarian narrative that in the past used art as a political weapon in the dispute for global hegemony.
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