'Manhattan is Modern Again!' the advertisements exclaim, as if this status depended on the new Museum of Modern Art alone. 'A transcendent aesthetic experience,' the New York Times gushed.
You might not recognise the museum after its redesign by the Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi. In the New Yorker John Updike likened its presence to 'an invisible cathedral', but it is closer to an abstract palace. The main access is now nearer Sixth than Fifth Avenue, and you enter from either 53rd or 54th Street into a lobby, paced with white columns, that cuts all the way through the block. (The fitting into the city is graceful, and throughout the museum Taniguchi provides unexpected glimpses of nearby buildings.) You then turn to mount a grand stairway where you are greeted, on the first landing, by the bluff Balzac by Rodin - not an obvious host except that here you first see, through a gorgeous glass curtain-wall, the Sculpture Garden below, which Taniguchi has spruced up with pools, trees and terraces. You turn again - suspended above you now is a green helicopter from the Architecture and Design Department - and climb to a great atrium, 110 feet high, punctuated by the huge Broken Obelisk by Barnett Newman in the centre (it looks like a rusty exclamation point from God) and a panoramic Water Lilies by Monet on the wall opposite (unfortunately, it shrinks in this vast space). The second floor also contains the cavernous Contemporary Galleries, including a Media Gallery for film and video, yet the atrium prompts you to look up, through vertical cuts in the white walls, to the four floors above, where you are enticed to go directly by elevator or escalator.
LRB 16 December 2004 | PDF Download