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Last Updated: Friday, 19 November, 2004, 10:45 GMT
New York gallery reinvents itself

By Kirsty Wark
Presenter, Newsnight Review

The Museum of Modern, 53rd Street entrance  2004 Timothy Hursley
The gallery face-lift will have cost more than $850m (475m)
Sometimes Newsnight Review takes a trip to engage with a big artistic or literary event, and so this Friday we come live from New York to coincide with the reopening this weekend of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Manhattan.

It has been reinvented for the sixth time in its 75-year history, this time by the Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi.

After such signature buildings as Frank Gehry's Guggenheim in Bilbao, and Richard Meier's gleaming citadel in Los Angeles, where the architecture is so obviously part of the deal, the restraint and elegance of Taniguchi's building at first appears simply like a receptacle for the work.

But from the moment you are welcomed in off the Manhattan street - by an entrance which slopes gently down, leading you to a soaring open area - his empathy, skill and art becomes clear.

What the architect has done is create a series of vistas which show visitors a Matisse, or a Judd, or even a Vespa which await in another galley, or simply a beautiful set of stairs rising Escher-like across a void.

Sculpture for a Large Wall (1957) by Ellsworth Kelly - photo  2004 Timothy Hursley
The most wonderful aspect of the new MoMA building - from a curator's point of view - is that it allows us to look at the collection anew
John Elderfield, Chief curator of painting and sculpture
Flood of light

At the same time, glass curtain walls on the six floors welcome New York in - as well as a flood of light - making the gallery firmly of the city.

Taniguchi adds to the feeling of weightlessness by stopping the pristine white interior walls short of the floor by less than an inch, giving them the appearance of screens rather than solid forms.

Thus the building, or rather the series of connected spaces, modestly becomes a work of art - a place which offers visitors infinite ways of seeing the paintings, sculptures, and installations within.

John Elderfield, the gallery's chief curator of painting and sculpture said: "The most wonderful aspect of the new MoMA building from a curator's point of view is that it allows us to look at the collection anew."

3rd floor with view of the David and Peggy Rockefeller Building - photo (C) 2004 Timothy Hursley
Glass walls make the city itself part of the gallery

MoMA's stars

There are the stars of MoMA: from Matisse and Van Gogh to Hopper and Picasso. The latter's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, which was too fragile to travel to the Tate Modern for the Matisse Picasso show last year, is on display.

But there are also some spectacular new acquisitions including work by Jasper Johns, Donald Judd and Jeff Wall.

MoMA's director Glenn Lowry told Newsnight Review: "This is not about the triumph of American Art, it's about the vitality of contemporary art around the world."

There are just two major galleries (at the moment) devoted to a single artist, one for Matisse and one for Pollock, and the way the pictures are displayed does not take the viewer through a didactic chronological journey but rather offers a view of history of modern art, or several views.

A glorious area of the Museum is the fifth floor, where you can see modern art's formative period from 1880 to 1940.

In one gallery, nicknamed The Crossroads, there are works by de Chirico, Brancusi and Picasso - and you can enter the gallery in five different ways, seeing clearly how different styles are all interconnected and feed off each other. There is a wonderful intimacy here.

6th Floor gallery with F-111 (1964-65) by James Rosenquist. Photo  2004 Timothy Hursley
The gallery spaces devoted to contemporary works are vast
In contrast the spaces devoted to the contemporary are vast - with Rachael Whiteread looking outstanding in the company of Andy Warhol, Bruce Nauman and Jeff Koons.

MoMA has been designed to accommodate art forms still to happen, and Glenn Lowry likens the museum to a laboratory - echoing MoMA founder Alfred Barr in 1929.

Newsnight Review's MoMA special will be screened on Friday, 19 November, 2004.

Newsnight Review is broadcast on BBC Two at 2300 BST every Friday in the UK.

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17 Nov 04 |  Entertainment
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28 Jun 02 |  Entertainment
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27 Jun 02 |  Entertainment
NY gallery to get $650m revamp
17 Jan 02 |  Entertainment

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