Wednesday 1 January 2020

New York: Explore the New MoMA with Architect Charles Renfro

Watch the new DAM documentary that takes you on a fascinating and insightful journey through the latest expansion of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York with architect Charles Renfro, a partner at the award-winning studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro.  Director: Franco Di Chiera. Creative Director and Editor: Paul James McDonnell. Executive Producer: Jeanne-Marie Cilento. Music: Benjamin Tissot.  Cover portrait by Steven Choo

Interior view of MoMA's ethereal
Blade Stair. Photograph: Iwan Baan
Courtesy of MoMA
THE highlight of the effulgent new expansion of the Museum of Modern Art is the buoyant, cantilevered Blade Stair that links different levels like a backbone through the building. The architects designed the stair as an urban sculpture, marking the threshold to the augmented galleries and combining a lightweight structure with a sense of monumentality.

This latest iteration of the museum includes new street-level galleries for special projects and contemporary design, that are free of charge, bringing artworks to people in midtown Manhattan and connecting the museum to New York City.

The redevelopment also added an innovative studio, at the heart of the museum, featuring a new fully customized space for media, performance, and film (a first for a major public museum), a creativity laboratory for education and elegantly spartan, vertically-interlocking art galleries. These spaces enable the museum to present more of its collection in a fluid, interconnected way with evocative exhibitions of painting, sculpture, architecture, design, photography and film that evoke the complex relationships between works of art in different mediums.

The new MoMA was developed by architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler. Based in New York, the DS+R studio has more than 100 architects, designers, artists and researchers, led by four partners: Elizabeth Diller, Ricardo Scofidio, Charles Renfro and Benjamin Gilmartin. The studio's main focus is on cultural and civic projects, addressing the changing role of institutions and the future of cities.

The distinctive MoMA sign recalls
the vertical dynamism of New York
skyscrapers on West 53rd Street.
Photograph: Steven Choo 
The original MoMA, founded in 1929 as an educational institution, is today considered the foremost museum of modern art in the world. During the 1920s, three art patrons, Miss Lillie P. Bliss, Mrs. Cornelius J. Sullivan, and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., decided to challenge the conservative ethos of museums and create an institution devoted to modern art, along with the first trustees. Founding director, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., wanted to help people understand and enjoy contemporary visual arts.

“Inspired by Alfred Barr’s original vision to be an experimental museum in New York, the real value of this expansion is not just more space, but space that allows us to rethink the experience of art in the Museum,” said Glenn D. Lowry, the current, long-standing director of the Museum of Modern Art. “We have an opportunity to re-energise and expand upon our founding mission ~ to welcome everyone to experience MoMA as a laboratory for the study and presentation of the art of our time, across all visual arts.”

The latest of iteration of the museum has free, street-level galleries, bringing art to people in midtown Manhattan and connecting MoMA to New York City.

An exhibition gallery showing works from MoMA's
permanent collection including 
Ferdinand Leger & Constantin Brancusi.  
Photograph: Jonathan Muzikar
Courtesy of MoMA
The expansion allows the museum to exhibit more of its collection in an interdisciplinary way while linking the museum to the urban fabric of Manhattan. The extra gallery space added to the western part of the site has enabled more of the collection to be exhibited showing modern and contemporary art across all mediums. The new galleries reimagine the display of the museum's collection and showcase its depth, and breadth. There are also spaces devoted to rotating shows of  photography, architecture and design.

The expansion to the west features the engaging new street-level galleries with a dedicated projects room, a gallery for contemporary design, the studio for media, performance and film, and a new lounge space. The Flagship Museum Store has been lowered one level and made visible to the street through a dramatic glass wall. The new double-height space, allows the reconfigured lobby to be visually connected to the street and directly woven into the fabric of midtown Manhattan. Museum visitors can look down into the store from the different parts of the building and the Blade Stair.

Josée and Henry Kravis Studio, a performance space
that is the first of its kind in a major museum.
Photograph: Steven Choo
“This project has called on us to work across MoMA’s rich architectural history, incorporating the museum’s existing building blocks into a comprehensible whole through careful and deliberate interventions," said Elizabeth Diller, founding partner of Diller Scofidio + Renfro. "It has required the curiosity of an archaeologist and the skill of a surgeon. The improvements make the visitor experience more intuitive and relieve congestion, while a new circulation network knits together the expansion spaces with the lobbies, the theatres, and the Sculpture Garden to create a contiguous, free public realm that bridges street to street and art to city.

“The design integrates the various facets of the Museum’s architectural history, creating a distinct clear-glass façade on 53rd Street that complements the existing Goodwin and Stone, Johnson, and Taniguchi buildings and invites a more open dialogue between interior and exterior spaces.”

"This project has required the curiosity of an archaeologist and the skill of a surgeon" ~ Elizabeth Diller

 A view across the airy Blade Stair's
glass balustrades and down to the new
Flagship Museum Store.
Photograph:Iwan Baan.
Courtesy of MoMA
Both design and colour choices throughout the renovation and expansion project are related to the history of the museum. The main entrance of the original Goodwin and Stone building was located in what was known as the Bauhaus Lobby, the ground-floor space that has undergone many changes over the decades.

Diller Scofidio +Renfro reinstated the connection between the ground floor and the galleries with the dynamic Blade Stair that uses the original materials of terrazzo, glass, and steel while employing the latest engineering technologies. The Grand Antique marble, sourced from the Ariège region in France, also recalls the marble surround of the historic stair in the Museum’s original lobby.

The stair’s sleek, lightweight design was created by a thin vertical spine that hangs from the roof structure to support the stairs and landings, without lateral bracing. Glass balustrades on the broad risers are cantilevered and held in place with pins that show the intersection of the two materials, a detail that recalls the renovated Bauhaus stair embedded into the terrazzo.

Looking down into the stair and out through
the luminous windows that give the new MoMA
a sense of connection to the city.
Photograph: Steven Choo
While the rich and varied collection of the Museum of Modern Art has one of the most comprehensive collections in the world today, it all began from an initial gift of eight prints and one drawing. The museum's collection has expanded to include 200,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs and performance art works, architectural models and drawings, design objects, and films. The museum also owns two million film stills and its archives contain the most extensive research material on modern art with each of the curatorial departments having a study centre available to students, scholars, and researchers. MoMA’s library has more than 320,000 items, including art books, periodicals, and files on more than 90,000 artists.

The museum has a roster of new installations and exhibitions, artist commissions, and programs that keep it in touch with the rest of the art world. The fifth, fourth, and second-floor galleries, including the new David Geffen Wing with over 30,000 square feet of new gallery space, offer a deeper experience of art through all mediums and by artists from diverse backgrounds and countries. A 'chronological spine' unites the three floors and orientates visitors in their exploration of the museum while the design of the new MoMA encourages using different routes through the galleries.

The experience of the museum is continually changed by new installations and exhibitions, artist commissions and programs

A view from top on to the Josée and Henry Kravis Studio
and out to New York City..
Photograph: Iwan Baan,
Courtesy of MoMA
Apart from the expansion of the new MoMA, Diller Scofidio +Renfro have completed two of the largest architecture and planning initiatives in New York City’s recent history: the High Line, a 1.5 mile-long public park, created from a former industrial railway and the transformation of Lincoln Centre for the Performing Arts’ campus. In 2019, the studio completed The Shed in New York, the first multi-arts centre designed for commissioning, producing, and presenting all types of performing and visual arts, and popular culture. Most recently, the studio was chosen to design the Centre for Music, a permanent home for the London Symphony Orchestra and a new collection and research centre for the V&A in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Other large architectural projects include The Broad, a contemporary art museum in Los Angeles; the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive at the University of California, Berkeley; the Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center at Columbia University in New York; the 35-acre Zaryadye Park adjacent to the Kremlin in Moscow; the Museum of Image & Sound on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro and The Juilliard School in Tianjin, China.

A major retrospective of DS+R’s work was held at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the firm was distinguished with the first MacArthur Foundation fellowship awarded in the field of architecture, included in Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential" list and won the Smithsonian Institution's 2005 National Design Award, the Medal of Honor and the President's Award from AIA New York, and Wall Street Journal Magazine's 2017 Architecture Innovator of the Year Award.

The Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53 Street, New York. Hours: 10:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturday through Thursday. 10:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m. Fridays. Admission $25 for adults, $18 for seniors, $14 for students, free for children 16 and under.

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