One Year After

Is the Museum of Modern Art becoming a madman who thinks it is king?

It isn't too late for our beloved MOMA to shock itself out of its complacent self-parody. But the clock is ticking.

Art lovers gather on a recent afternoon in the atrium at MOMA.
photo: Robin Holland
Art lovers gather on a recent afternoon in the atrium at MOMA.

A balky commitment to rethinking postwar art

As far as programming, vision, mission, and ambition are concerned, MOMA must reconnect with its wildcat roots and remember it was created to take on the whole world. It's time to get beyond its orderly version of postwar art: namely that abstraction was essentially invented by a bunch of white guys in the Cedar bar, pop art was primarily an American phenomenon, women didn't become good artists until after 1970, and conceptualism was a hiccup.

MOMA's commitment to rethinking postwar art feels balky at best, averse at worst. Yet it must wholeheartedly and creatively re-examine and reimagine the art of the last 50 years—although it's hard to envision this without a single designated "project gallery" in the new building. Things are so far off at MOMA that Tate director Nicholas Serota recently accused it of suffering a "loss of nerve."

The situation isn't hopeless. The current reinstallation of contemporary art is excellent. "Safe," the design show, is feisty and sharp; the gigantic Lee Friedlander survey was great, although the Thomas Demand retrospective was only OK because too much Demand got monotonous. The Elizabeth Murray survey was terrific. Now MOMA needs to mount at least one retrospective of a living woman artist every year for the next 15 years.

The point is MOMA needs to stop confirming and start experimenting.

Other museums are light-years ahead of MOMA

When MOMA opened a year ago it seemed as if other local museums would be eclipsed. The opposite has happened. The Whitney now looks scrappy and sassy by comparison and is infused with a nothing-to-lose drive. Having two Europeans curate the upcoming Biennial may provide a nifty dose of anti-provincialism. Even the big, bad Guggenheim, run as it is by a kind of tough guy, has lately been putting on good, weird shows and taking risks (although this doesn't undo the terrible things it did to art recently).

For an idea of how safe MOMA is playing it, compare it to Tate Modern, the Walker Art Center, L.A.'s MOCA, UCLA Hammer, Chicago's MCA, or even the Studio Museum in Harlem and Philadelphia's little ICA. All these institutions feel light-years ahead of MOMA when it comes to dynamism, vision, and nerve.

« Previous Page