- The Washington Times - Friday, April 15, 2005

NEW YORK Four months after unveiling its spectacular new quarters in midtown and taking heat for sharply higher entry fees, the Museum of Modern Art already has registered more than 1 million visitors.

Even more, David Rockefeller has announced a $100 million pledge for enhancing the museum’s programs, the largest cash gift ever made to MoMA’s endowment.

“We are delighted with the public response to our new building. In March we welcomed our millionth visitor to the museum,” Ruth Kaplan, the museum’s deputy director for marketing and communications, says.

The 1 million threshold was reached March 24. If that attendance rate holds, the reincarnated temple of 20th-century art and design will see twice as many visitors this year as the 1.5 million visitors in the mid-1990s, before the $858 million expansion project was initiated.

MoMA operated in a converted factory in the borough of Queens for 2 1/2 years while the old quarters were redesigned, gutted and doubled in size.

It’s clear that the new MoMA is a big hit in the highly competitive world of New York museums, countering concerns of backlash against $20 entry fees. Art lovers picketed the museum’s reopening in November because of the price increase, and the New York Times denounced it as “an appalling and cynical figure.” Seniors pay $16, students $12 and children 16 and younger enter for free.

These days, MoMA is pulsating, especially on Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m., when admission is free.

“Every Friday, we are pleased to see some 5,000 to 7,000 visitors take advantage of Target Free Friday Nights,” Miss Kaplan says, referring to the initiative subsidized by the department-store chain.

On a recent freebie evening, art buffs clustered six deep in front of “The Starry Night,” craning and clicking cameras at Vincent van Gogh’s swirl of a sky-scape. Throngs flowed past Pablo Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” Paul Cezanne’s “The Bather,” Paul Gauguin’s Polynesian nudes and into a room filled with works by Henri Matisse, works that inspired murmurs of awe.

The crowd buzz carried up the escalators to the gymnasium-size hall of temporary exhibits on the sixth floor, now featuring 64 works from Willem de Kooning, Philip Guston, Robert Rauschenberg, Donald Judd, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Chuck Close, Lucian Freud and other 20th-century iconoclasts.

The paintings, drawings, sculptures and photographs were lent by Switzerland’s UBS bank, part of its holdings of 900 works mostly inherited from its 2001 acquisition of the PaineWebber financial firm.

Forty of the works on display through April 25 have been promised to MoMA to bolster its contemporary department. The collection will be shown at the Beyeler Foundation Museum near Basel, Switzerland, starting in November.

Public reaction to the UBS works was less reverential than for pieces in MoMA’s permanent collection on the lower floors, which flow off from a 110-foot-high atrium, with windows on the New York skyline.

Andreas Gursky’s 1999 large-format photo “99 Cent,” of a discount store crammed with packaged food, drew giggles and looks for familiar brands. Parodying the jagged patterns of a 7-foot-wide “spin painting” from 1992 by Damien Hirst, a boy mimicked tossing a bucket of paint at the wall.

Gerhard Richter’s 1986 abstract “Confus,” in brightly colored oils applied with highly textured strokes, seemed to transfix some viewers, as did Brice Marden’s 1994-96 oil “Chinese Dancing.”

Donald B. Marron, Paine -Webber’s former chief executive, explained in the catalog that he bought modern art for office walls to encourage employees to be alert to Wall Street trends.

“When I started, people wondered what all these funny pictures were. … Some of the people who were sitting in desks near the funny pictures had friends from SoHo who would come up for lunch and say, ‘You know you have a Jasper Johns over your desk?’ They didn’t, but now they did.”

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