Starstruck at MoMA

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Midtown Manhattan is undergoing a significant renovation and expansion that will increase gallery space by thirty percent upon completion in 2019. In the midst of renovation and following a long hot summer, the museum may currently look a little rough around the edges and even disorienting for longtime patrons. For starters, you’ll need to enter the museum on W. 54th Street instead of W. 53rd Street while the work is taking place, and the museum store is now currently on the second floor next to the coffee bar which has also moved.

W. 54th Street entrance, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

This state of affairs didn’t stop visitors on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend from making a pilgrimage to the museum to gaze at treasures of modern art. In an age of quickly disposable digital imagery, the original and cherished works still exude their aura. Ironically, the most famous paintings are the most “grammable.”

The museum’s collection includes many stars of modern art, including Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night (1889). The painting is one of the most recognizable in the world, with countless reproductions and a soundtrack for the artist, courtesy of singer-songwriter Don McLean. Inspired by a bright morning star Van Gogh saw from his asylum window in southern France, the painting depicts a dreamlike and turbulent sky dancing over the sleeping village below. You know the painting. A dark cypress tree in the foreground and a church steeple rise up to touch the swirling firmament. It’s not hard to locate The Starry Night, because dozens of people will be crowded around it and taking pictures.

The glass walls at MoMA allow views of the surrounding buildings of Midtown, a mix of classic and modern styles.  

Claude Monet’s Water Lilies (1914-26), Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), and Jackson Pollock’s One: Number 31, 1950 (1950) also grew plenty of onlookers and picture-takers. Of course, looking at these original paintings with the naked eye is preferable to taking pictures of them. In addition, just thinking about the physical and emotional energy invested by the artist in creating these works is humbling, especially compared with the ease of snapping a quick photo on a digital device. Imagine the great upper body energy it took Pollock to drip the paint on the large canvas. They don’t call this “action painting” for nothing. Nevertheless, if you are a person who loves art, being around fellow museum-goers can be comforting, even when far too many of them block good views of the canvas or go trophy hunting for the next celebrity painting.

View of MoMA's sculpture garden
  
The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden has always attracted visitors during pleasant weather. The outdoor space was pristine this past weekend. The sculpture, the dappled light, the sights and sounds of the fountains, and the greenery reconfirmed the garden as one of the most restorative oases in Midtown. The big hit with the kids was Snowman (2016), a man of snow preserved in a freezer by Peter Fischli (Swiss, b. 1952) and David Weiss (Swiss, 1946–2012). The work is part of Fischli’s curated selection of sculpture from MoMA’s collection, temporarily on display as part of a special exhibition. 

Plans for the museum’s expansion, developed by MoMA with architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler, are also on display. The overall idea of the expansion involves more connectivity among gallery spaces, more performance space, more light, more air, more staircases (including the extension of the Bauhaus staircase to other floors), more elevators, and more coat checks. Amidst the expansion of exhibition space, The Starry Night will still be there.

Images from September 1, 2018 by Walking Off the Big Apple.

Resources:
The Museum of Modern Art website

Related on this website:

New York Museum Exhibitions: Fall Preview

Museums in New York Open on Mondays

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Walking Off the Big Apple features self-guided tours to neighborhoods, streets, cultural history, good books, architecture, museums, parks, landscapes, and offbeat travel experiences in New York City.

Older posts will sometimes be updated to reflect relevant changes in the city, i.e. store or restaurant closings or transit information.

Writer and editor Teri Tynes created Walking Off the Big Apple in the summer of 2007. Email: teritynes@gmail.com.