It’s early June - a cloudy Sunday in New York City and it looks as though it might rain. A perfect day to check out the MoMA. The Museum of Modern Art was founded in 1929 by “the ladies” - Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, Lillie P. Bliss, and Mary Quinn Sullivan. Since its inception the museum has been arguably the most important modern art museum in North America, maintaining its status even through relocation in 1939 to W 53rd St where it remains today and several large renovations.
Only today we nearly can’t get inside and not due to the usual snaking NYC line-ups. No, today happens to be the Celebrate Israel Parade which has taken over Madison Avenue. Yesterday was the terrible London Bridge terror attack. New York is taking no chances. Every cross street is blocked to traffic by police barricades (including W 53rd and 54th streets) which covers all entrances to the museum and has traffic in the surrounding area at a near stand still.
Approaching on foot we encounter further evidence of the sometimes scary reality of a post 9/11 New York: bomb sniffing dogs, dump trucks filled with sand strategically parked to stop a vehicular attack and at least one helicopter circling overhead. Pedestrians are being questioned by police one or two at a time causing large lines and squashed crowds, but we persist.
As we finally get towards the MoMA we are stopped again - this time by a helpful MoMA rep who directs us to the entrance and also informs us that there is a significant renovation going on inside the museum (uh-oh). “Rest assured” she says, that no artwork has been taken down from display due to the renovations. Between the difficulty getting to the museum and this new piece of information, I’m starting to get the feeling this might not be a great visit.
Entering the museum, the mood shifts immediately from the tense and invasive feeling on the street outside to a quiet calm. No line-ups, no cacophony of voices and strange sounds, no jostling crowd, and, for possibly the first time this weekend - no airport style security to go through when entering a NYC attraction. A breath of fresh air. Instead we are greeted by a long desk with several helpful faces for member services - the casual museum goer will have to continue past the desk, down towards the middle of the first floor of the museum to buy tickets (a very reasonable $25 US each) for the day.
Behind the reception desk is a large wash of floor to ceiling windows overlooking the sculptural garden, which (uh-oh) looks to be undergoing a bit of construction and set-up for the ‘Party in the Garden’ tomorrow (Monday) - an interesting, if sometimes controversial fundraising event with tickets to the main dinner starting at $2500 and going up to a whopping $100,000 to sponsor a table for ten with the cheapest tickets covering admission to the ‘After Party’ for a more digestible $250 each.
The event has had its issues in the past with staff picketing the event during a contract dispute in 2015 involving the downsizing of employees health benefits during a time when the MoMA was starting to be seen by some in NYC as a Goliath, swallowing the American folk museum next door, pandering to terrible celebrity art displays, and generally watering down the experience for many museum goers into what some people described as walking through a mall.
While I’m happy to report that there are no signs of celebrity art displays, it is true that the MoMA has now demolished the American Folk museum to use its space as you will see on Floor 3 with the architectural model of the ‘finished museum. I put finished in quotations, only because the site seems, by definition, to never be finished. In many ways it reminds me of the rest of New York. Sure, it has a modern look and feel, but the construction is such a familiar site. How many hoardings did I walk under just getting to the museum? I lost count. That’s part of the charm of New York - always growing, constantly changing - but staying familiar enough to love.
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Sebastian McKerracher is a web designer and woodworker. When he isn't sitting behind a computer screen or building a cutting board he sometimes finds time to visit modern art galleries or natural history museums.