Museum of Modern Art
In (e)1996, the Museum of Modern Art embarked on an expansion program that would address its ongoing issue of an ever-growing modern art collection in a scale that would encompass an eight-year span of time including a new north wing and the renovation and restoration of its existing buildings in a complex plan, designed to bring the MoMA into the twenty-first century as a unified whole. The extreme scope of this expansion would require the deconstruction of the historic Dorset Hotel in order to construct the new north wing and the temporary relocation of its operations to an alternate site in Queens, New York. The unprecedented expansion was unveiled to the public in 2004 and is reflective of the museum’s seventy-eight year history of dedication to modern art as witnessed by its series of previous expansions, individually representing the span of modern architecture, however brought together in its current expansion by the Japanese architect, Yoshio Taniguchi. In order to fully understand the impact of the 2004 expansion, it is important to reflect on MoMA’s humble beginnings in 1929 and subsequent expansions over its history driven by the ongoing passionate vision of its original founders. Through the determined spirit of its founders to enrich and educate the world through the exhibition of contemporary art, the once considered outrageous movement of modern art developed into an international phenomenon, originally rooted in the Museum of Modern Art.
In (e)1929, in a period where modern art was still considered controversial, Mrs. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, Miss Lizzie P. Bliss, and Mrs. Cornelius Sullivan boldly combined their underrepresented artworks and founded the Museum of Modern Art based on their collective belief and determination to enlighten the public with the first museum of its kind in the United States. To assist in their rather large endeavor, they enlisted Mr. Conger Goodyear as their president, a former trustee of the Albright Gallery in Buffalo and mutual firm believer in the modern art movement. Over time, the founding committee grew to include members of New York’s financial elite. In maintaining their collective vision, Alfred H. Barr Jr. was hired by the committee as the MoMA’s first director. His passionate drive to develop a museum that would be recognized as a center of education and exhibition space for the display of international modern art coupled well with the committee’s mission of enlightenment.
Yoshio Taniguchi’s design for the MoMA integrates the museum’s mission to experience artwork in an environment that allows the viewer to flow through a structured program of art displayed in a range from contemporary artists to historic artists of the modern art movement. This sequence inverts the museum’s original flow, however places contemporary works at the center through an oversized atrium that allows for the largest works of our time. His desire to create an architecture that recedes from the artwork invites an atmosphere to engage the viewer to the works while at the same time pull away from the architecture itself. “Taniguchi has demonstrated that the two can be intertwined, specifically when the former is designed in such a way as to be a subtle but rich series of sensory experiences that heightens awareness. In such an environment, the architecture does “go away,” leaving, if not nothingness, then almost nothing.”
In response to its specific needs within its context of the mid Manhattan block, Taniguchi designed the museum lobby to connect both the 53rd and 54th Street entrances, opening up the museum at the street level while creating an enlarged dimension of space. In the past, it was noticed that the galleries seemed linear in flow, taking the viewer through a maze of rooms without orientation to the external environment. Taniguchi addresses this issue by opening up the walls of the museum, allowing for natural light to enter the gallery space and creating vistas to the neighborhood surrounding the museum. The atrium with its carved top visually connects the museum to Cesar Pelli’s tower, which in the past was not visible from the museum’s interior.
Taniguchi also accomplishes this sense of vistas to the outside environment by creating dramatic glass curtain walls on the symmetrical East and West wings, which look out onto each other in addition to the sculpture garden. The East wing provides space for the museum’s educational facilities and the West wing houses its gallery spaces. The mirroring of these two structures reflects the museum’s mission of modern art exhibition in an educational atmosphere.
One of the most notable aspects of the Taniguchi design was his handling of the museum’s existing buildings. His goal was to retain and restore the original 53rd Street facades including, the Goodwin and Stone building, Philip Johnson’s East Wing and Cesar Pelli’s tower in an effort to preserve and illustrate the museum’s architectural progression in line with his own West Wing contribution. On the opposite 54th Street façade, Taniguchi created a unified exterior composition of glass, steel, and granite that is consistent with the newer additions while maintaining a sensitivity to the existing structures.
The designs of Yoshio Taniguchi, MoMA’s (e)1996-2004 expansion accomplishes the original goal to create a new cohesive museum that brings together the architectural elements from its past expansions. The sensitivity to interior space and special attention to flow of movement enhances the viewer’s art experience while paying careful attention to not overcome or interrupt the artwork on display. Alfred H. Barr’s original vision to create a museum space that would exist as an educational platform for the exchange of evolving ideas to engage the viewer with modern art has been restored with the Taniguchi’s (e)2004 expansion. The Museum of Modern Art reopened its doors in (e)2004 featuring a new complex composed of five parts: new gallery spaces with ten-story tower above, renovated Goodwin and Stone Building, Johnson and Pelli additions, an enlarged Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, and renovated education and research building. The MoMA’s collection of modern art, including its comprehensive departments of Architecture and Design, Sculpture and Painting, Prints, Illustrations, Photography and Film sets the MoMA apart as a time-honored institution originally founded to educate and enlighten the art world. In addition to its most recent modern architectural expansion, the MoMA continues to exemplify the notion of modernism as it presses forward into its future as an internationally recognized art center sensitive to continued education and the exhibition of modern art, both historic and contemporary. Through the ongoing determined spirit of its founders and the subsequent leaders that have followed in their footsteps, the once considered controversial movement of modern art has developed into an international phenomenon, originally rooted in the Museum of Modern Art.
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