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As MoMA Expands, Galleries Devoted to Specific Disciplines May Disappear [UPDATED]

From the 2014 exhibition 'Frank Lloyd Wright and the City: Density vs. Dispersal' (all photos by Allison Meier)
From the 2014 exhibition ‘Frank Lloyd Wright and the City: Density vs. Dispersal’ (all photos by Allison Meier)

As part of its ongoing plans to renovate and expand its building, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) will reconfigure its third floor, which currently houses its Architecture and Design, Photography, and Drawings galleries — a move that may drastically reduce the number of rooms in the museum devoted to specific media. During this renovation period, only the Philip Johnson galleries, which currently house the Japanese Constellation exhibition, will remain open, while the Robert Menschel Galleries for Architecture and Design will be inaccessible — and have been since last month, after the run of Frederick Kiesler’s Endless House.

Located on the museum’s south end, the Menschel Galleries include the Drawings, Photography, and Architecture galleries, as well as a Special Exhibitions gallery. Works from those spaces “will be on view in a variety of installations from the collection that are interspersed and integrated throughout the Museum, including the current From the Collection: 1960-1969, currently on view on the 4th floor,” MoMA said in a statement sent to Hyperallergic. The Menschel Galleries will reopen in early 2017 as two larger spaces of 5,000 and 10,000 square feet, but it is unclear how curators will program them.

Floor plan of the third floor, with the Johnson Galleries — open to the public — at the top and the Menschel at the bottom
Floor plan of the third floor, with the Johnson Galleries — currently open to the public — at the top and the Menschel Galleries — now inaccessible — at the bottom (screenshot via MoMA.org)

“We are excited about the possibilities for presenting the collection when the expansion is complete, and our curators are engaged in an ongoing conversation in that regard,” the museum’s statement said. “It is too soon, however, to describe exactly what our approach to the collection will be.”

William Menking of the Architect’s Newspaper notes that this merging of various media in displays is apparently a trend in the museum world, citing Tate Modern as “doing this for many years.” We’ll see how MoMA ends up presenting its collections, but it would be a shame if it only placed its objects into more general art historical contexts — especially if doing so means dispersing the world’s first museum department devoted to architecture and design.

The museum has not yet unveiled the full design of its current expansion, which is designed by architectural firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro. and slated to cost at least $390 million.

A rendering of the planned layout (image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art) (click to enlarge)
A rendering of the planned layout (image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art) (click to enlarge)
Endless House
Annett Zinsmeister, “Virtual Interior MoMA white” (2007/2015), photographic installation from this year’s ‘Endless House’ exhibition
Exhibition view of 'Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities,' on view from November 2014 through May 2015
Exhibition view of ‘Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities,’ on view from November 2014 through May 2015
From the 2014 exhibition 'Frank Lloyd Wright and the City: Density vs. Dispersal'
From the 2014 exhibition ‘Frank Lloyd Wright and the City: Density vs. Dispersal’

Update, 4/25: Martino Stierli, MoMA’s Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, has issued the following statement regarding the renovations:

Recently, a number of articles and commentaries in the architectural press and on social media have suggested that The Museum of Modern Art will no longer have any exhibition spaces for works from its Architecture and Design Department, and that our rich collection will no longer be on view. This is absolutely not true.

In terms of the next iteration of MoMA, still several years away, my fellow chief curators and I are studying the opportunities that the expansion, with approximately 50,000 more square feet for exhibitions and the collection and a 30% increase in gallery space for the collection, offers. We are fully committed to presenting our rich collection in a way that will do justice to the specific needs of each medium, including architecture and design, while making visible the many meaningful connections among the arts. It is a strategy that we think of as “both/and” – we want both medium-dedicated galleries and more broadly comprehensive ones, and we are dedicated to achieving this. There is no change of policy in this regard, and the abolishing of architecture and design-designated galleries is not and has never been an issue under consideration.

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