The old Philip Goodwin- and Edward Durell Stone-designed MoMA was my first museum. I visited from high school through college and can still dream-walk my way through, conjuring many of the famous works in exactly the spots where they were displayed. When it reopened in 2004, after a highly sophisticated expansion by Yoshio Taniguchi, I couldn’t bear the bigger, noisier place, with its airport terminal acoustics, listless crowds, and enormous, empty central hall, the Marron Atrium. I stayed away, mostly. Now, eight years later, I’ve come around.
What happened? I stopped thinking of the place as one museum but as many museums, all glued together by that court. Last week, with limited time, I ran inside to see one specific exhibit and then back out again. As I was riding down the escalators I realized that the museum was like an airport terminal, a good one, leading a visitor to and from one gallery, and not necessarily through all of its galleries at once. Seeing the new, expanded MoMA requires strategy; you go to the sixth floor to see the blockbuster, to the third floor to see design, or to the fourth or fifth floors to browse the permanent collection. The place can’t be taken it all at once, as the older MoMA might have been. Before leaving I walked through the court, where there was some sort of politically-charged sculptural installation, and luxuriated in the great, fat void that it cuts, perversely, through the middle of the museum and the middle of midtown. After Marina Abramowic’ performance and then Yoko Ono’s installation there last year, that space has a history of its own; it reverberates. In 2005, MoMA mounted an exhibit of Tanagachi’s work called Nine Museums. That might be a perfect title for the current museum.