- The Washington Times - Friday, December 10, 2004

NEW YORK — The much-hyped expansion and renovation of New York’s Museum of Modern Art is a near-perfect marriage of modernist art and minimalist architecture. The new MOMA, designed by Tokyo-based architect Yoshio Taniguchi, was unveiled to the public with much fanfare on Nov. 20 to mark the museum’s 75th anniversary.The core of this complex new space is a soaring 110-foot-tall atrium that lets in natural light and fleeting city vistas while anchoring the six-story-high glass structure with materials such as black granite, green slate, Georgia marble and aluminum. Spanning the entire lobby space and gradually narrowing as it stretches upward, the light-filled atrium dominates the whole.

Huge windows and translucent walls act as grace notes throughout the museum, diffusing even more light throughout the now 630,000-square-foot building.

Mr. Taniguchi, 67, who won the MOMA invitational architectural competition over other prestigious architects such as Frank Gehry and Richard Meier, never let his vision overwhelm the art — a failing all too common among today’s museum designers.

Unfortunately, however, there’s a major insult to one of MOMA’s greatest paintings, French impressionist Claude Monet’s groundbreaking, 42-foot-long “Waterlilies” (circa 1920). Once housed in its own meditative, curved-wall room, the horizontally oriented, three-panel work is now pulled across a gigantic, second-floor wall almost hidden by Barnett Newman’s kitschy “Broken Obelisk” sculpture (1963-1969).

Despite this significant gaffe, the architect’s and curators’ choice of Auguste Rodin’s towering “Balzac” as the museum’s artistic focus couldn’t be better. Positioned near the museum’s entrance, “Balzac” (plaster version done during 1892-1897, posthumously cast in bronze in 1939 ) first faces visitors in the kind of daylight that picks out the great French novelist’s craggy features and daringly exaggerated robe.

At closing time, however, a different “Balzac” emerges. Darkness sets in from the outer sculpture garden while dramatic spotlights pour from the ceiling above, giving the writer a godlike, even threatening, appearance.

The MOMA has a vast collection of images tracing the evolution of modern and contemporary art over the last 125 years. In organizing that material into an almost chronological pattern that allows interruption by several of Mr. Taniguchi’s larger spaces, John Elderfield, chief curator of the museum’s department of painting and sculpture, has adroitly complemented the architect’s redesign.

The second-floor Contemporary Galleries, with their 22-foot-high center ceilings and 15,000 square feet of column-free space, showcase art created between 1970 and 2004 . It’s art on which the jury is still out. Only Gordon Matta-Clark’s “Bingo” (1974), a reconstruction of parts of a rotting abandoned house, seems new and fresh.

“Painting and Sculpture I” (fifth floor) is devoted to revolutionary art done between 1880 and 1940. Mostly culling works from MOMA’s older acquisitions, it brings back familiar friends from the museum’s collection, including Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night,” Pablo Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” and Paul Cezanne’s “The Bather.”

“Painting and Sculpture II” (fourth floor), highlighting works from the 1940s to the late 1960s, opens with Alberto Giacometti’s ghostly “The Chariot” (1950), art by abstract expressionists Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline, and pop progenitors Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns.

Refreshingly interrupting modernism’s march are the third-floor galleries largely filled with revolutionary breakthroughs in architecture and design (think Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright) and the Special Exhibitions sixth-floor display of two of MOMA’s biggest pieces, Ellsworth Kelly’s “Sculpture for a Large Wall” and James Rosenquist’s “F-111.”

The museum’s famed sculpture garden — highlighted by Aristide Maillol’s “The River” picturing a sensuous female nude perched head-first over water — can be a meditative resting place after this tour.

But if it’s not enough, there’s always Lindy’s “World-Famous Cheesecake” just a few blocks away.

WHAT: Inaugural exhibitions marking the reopening of MOMA’s midtown Manhattan building

WHERE: 11 W. 53rd St., New York City

WHEN: On indefinite display. Open Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Open Friday from 10:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. Closed on Tuesday.

TICKETS: $20 adults, $16 seniors, $12 students, free Friday 4 to 8 p.m. through Target Free Friday Nights program, free for children 16 and under accompanied by parents, and membership beginning at $75 guarantees free and fast admission.

PHONE: 212/708-9400

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