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Museum of Modern Art unveils phase one of its Diller, Scofidio + Renfro renovation

The first of MoMA’s myriad new galleries and public spaces debuts this week

All photos by Iwan Baan

For the past few years, the Museum of Modern Art has been working to expand its footprint, taking the institution’s current maze of galleries and public spaces and rendering those into a cohesive whole. The firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, no stranger to remaking cultural spaces, has been working on that expansion since the start, and the fruits of its design (which has, at times, been controversial) are finally beginning to see the light.

As of this week, the first phase of the expansion—the east end of the museum, in the Ronald S. and Jo Carole Lauder Building—is open to the public, showing off some of the renovation’s more compelling features. On the ground floor, there’s a new lounge with views of the museum’s Philip Johnson-designed sculpture garden. The renovated Bauhaus staircase will also reopen, connecting the first floor to a revamped museum cafe and sleek, open gift shop on the second floor, as well as new galleries on the third floor.

Getting to this point involved “microsurgery that you never get to see,” according to MoMA director Glenn Lowry, speaking at a preview of the space earlier today. And it’s just the beginning: Next week, the museum will close the main lobby on 53rd Street—part of the 2004 expansion led by Yoshio Taniguchi—for the second phase of construction, which involves reconfiguring that space to make it more open and welcoming to visitors. It will, in the words of Liz Diller, have a “much more intuitive circulation”—something that’s been sorely lacking for the past decade and change.

That’s just one goal of the overall expansion; MoMA officials hope that, in addition to increasing gallery space and creating a more welcoming environment, the renovation will “better connect the museum to the urban fabric of Midtown Manhattan,” per a press release. To that end, the entire first floor—including a newly designed museum store and the sculpture garden—will be open to the public free of charge, and a glass curtain wall will make those spaces more visible to the public.

A view of the renovations at MoMA, looking north along 53rd Street
© 2017 Diller Scofidio + Renfro

When all is said and done, the renovation will bring an impressive 175,000 square feet of gallery space to the museum. But as New York, archicritic Justin Davidson notes, whether that’s a good thing remains to be seen; bigger has not equalled better in the museum’s past. Each subsequent addition (including the Taniguhchi one of 2004, and one done by Cesar Pelli in the 1980s) has “created the museum equivalent of an urban highway: The bigger it grows, the more congested it gets,” says Davidson.

But on the flip side, “DS+R is peerlessly adept at knitting a cluster of disparate modern buildings into a smooth and stylish whole,” says Davidson—the firm’s renovation at Lincoln Center is proof. And Curbed architecture critic Alexandra Lange notes that DS+R “seems to be having a little fun with MoMA's history,” taking inspiration from previous iterations (the 1939 Philip L. Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone building; the Philip Johnson expansion of the 1960s) for its new spaces.

Soon, the public will be able to judge for itself: In addition to the revamped lounge, museum store and cafe, and the Bauhaus stair, the new third-floor galleries will debut on June 12, when MoMA’s upcoming Frank Lloyd Wright retrospective opens to the public.

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

11 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019 (212) 708-9400 Visit Website