Jerry Saltz to MoMA’s Trustees: Please, Reject This Awful Expansion Plan

Saltz to MoMA: Please do not build this. Photo: Courtesy of Museum of Modern Art

To the Trustees of the Museum of Modern Art:

I write to you about the Museum of Modern Art’s planned redesign, including the removal of the former American Museum of Folk Art. Last week, Diller Scofidio + Renfro unveiled a design that replaces AFAM — a useless place for the exhibition of art, and a building whose demolition I have advocated — with even worse spaces. Their generic technocratic edifice is scornful to art, and will be less conducive to looking at art than the building it will replace. These designs are contemptuous of art, artists, and the museum. On behalf of the art community, I implore the trustees and board members to stop and reconsider the entire plan.

The conventionally chic spaces DS+R is offering you will not alleviate MoMA’s overcrowding or its lack of space for the permanent collection before 1980. This design is an illness pretending to be its own cure. What DS+R propose will forever alter the course of this great museum, transforming MoMA into an amusement park where people will look at other people looking at other people looking at people trying to look at art. This isn’t museum architecture; it’s heady stagecraft that trivializes most art and turns looking into nifty convivial public entertainment. Fast-approaching construction deadlines are not reasons to go forward with this ill-thought-out plan, done in a rush to rectify problems caused by the Taniguchi reconstruction in 2004.

The Sculpture Garden is to be open to the public from West 54th Street. A lovely egalitarian gesture. However, this instantly converts a peaceful space from secret garden to town square or mall walk. It will no longer be possible to gaze at art uninterrupted here, or have a private moment. You will have eliminated one of New York’s few great sanctuary spaces.

West 53rd Street will be the site of the double-height glass-faced galleries you’re calling the Gray Box and the Art Bay. These spaces are intended for performances, events, installations, and such. Mr. Lowry says, “This is the influence of PS1.” Everyone loves PS1; but MoMA isn’t PS1. Nor should it be! This plan will create havoc on West 53rd Street, as people carrying synthetic coffee drinks will stand there gawking at people who are trying to focus on the art inside this box. You will have built galleries that are useless for anything that needs time, quiet, concentration — the creation of which is supposed to be the point of this arduous reconstruction. No one bemoans MoMA’s dearth of performances, installations, or transparency. All bemoan MoMA’s lack of space for the pre-1980 permanent collection.

The additional space for that collection will amount to 30,000 square feet. That’s about one Chelsea megagallery, not nearly enough room for showing the planet’s definitive collection of modern art. DS+R hasn’t said yet what it plans for these crucial spaces. We may expect similarly anemic, useless mediocrities.

When I met with your architects and director for three hours last week, they spoke endlessly about performance art, lectures, and installations, and about “accessibility,” “transparency,” and “flow.” They never once uttered the words painting, sculpture, drawing, or photography. This disfigured logic and delusional drivel maintains that discrete objects, especially things that need walls or quiet, are suspect or wearisome. Anyone who understands art still believes that making and displaying things on the wall remains a visionary way of imaging worlds. By building faddish sham spaces like glass-fronted corridor galleries, you will further alienate your first constituency — the wide and diverse art community. MoMA is about to commit an irrevocable masochistic act, a self-destructive abandoning of its first purpose.

Please stop. Reconsider. Don’t be handmaidens to this grotesque tragedy inflicted on a museum built on the backs of artists and the largess and love of art of people like you. MoMA is at a point of no return. This plan should be scrapped.

Respectfully, and with regrets, 
Jerry Saltz
Senior Art Critic, New York Magazine

* Editor’s note: This post has been revised. An earlier, unfinished edit was briefly posted in error. 

Jerry Saltz’s Open Letter to the MoMA Trustees