When the Museum of Modern Art renovates, it doesn’t take half-measures. On October 21st, the museum officially reopened its doors to the public and — at long last — welcomed visitors into its expanded campus.
The expansion adds 40,000 square feet to MoMA’s footprint and reportedly cost upwards of $450 million to complete. Today, the museum’s borders span the majority of the 53rd Street block between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. It was an admittedly tricky project to execute, as the architects needed to meld two sites — three floors of a residential tower on 53 West 53rd Street and an entirely new building at 45 West 53rd Street — into a cohesive whole with the museum’s original campus. It’s fair to say that MoMA met the challenge head-on, albeit with help; plans for the renovation were developed by the museum with assistance from the architectural firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro and in collaboration with Gensler.
According to MoMA, the renovations served as a means to “rethink how we share art with you. We’ve reinstalled the entire collection to share exhilaratingly broad views of the art of our time in a way that is always evolving.” And it’s true — besides offering access to three floors of collection galleries and thousands of drawings, sculptures, video, and other artworks, some spaces within MoMA’s expanded campus also provide visitors opportunities to engage with art in a more personal and affecting way.
In the new Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Studio, for instance, museum-goers experience live and experimental programming firsthand. As one writer for MoMA puts the matter, “Through new commissions, festivals, and residencies, as well as presentations of landmark works from the collection […] you can directly engage with artists and works in process and see pivotal and emerging works in dialogue.”
Similarly, the new Paula and James Crown Creativity Lab provides an experimental space where visitors can interact not only with MoMA’s art, but the artists who create it. Until August of 2020, the Lab will see a steady calendar of conversations and workshops that explore the environments and cultures that underpin artistic practice.
MoMA’s new campus has been a long time in the making. The first phase of the project began in 2014 with renovations to the east wing; that same year, MoMA announced its intent to demolish the former American Folk Art Museum building and construct new gallery space atop its foundation. MoMA faced some blowback for the demolition, both from the former building’s architectural team (Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects) and supporters of the Folk Art Museum. The project pushed on; by the end of 2017, MoMA had completed the first phase of renovations on its east wing and began construction on the west. Now, after years of effort, the museum’s transformation has finally reached a stopping point.
People seem to appreciate the change — for the new galleries, and for the unique architectural environment that encompasses them. As one writer describes for Fast Company: “The building is made up of a series of sharp angles and steel lines, but the galleries are woven into a series of seemingly infinite loops; the experience of viewing each exhibit felt more like an accidental discovery than something I could have ever intentionally charted. The building feels like a puzzle worth solving.”
In a way, the renovated building has itself become art — a tangible, thought-provoking, and walkable masterpiece that exudes the modern artistic spirit and curiosity.
Want more insights into New York’s art and culture scene? Check our blog post on the Coolest Pop-up Museums in NYC!