Newly Renovated MoMA Is Museum of Modern Arguing

From our Beaten to Death with Croutons desk

Here’s what everyone can agree on: New York’s Museum of Modern Art will unveil its four-month, $450 million, 47,000-square-foot expansion on October 21st.

Beyond that, it’s strictly an art critic slapfight.

Let’s take just one example: This pairing of Pablo Picasso’s 1907 iconic “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” with Faith Ringgold’s 1967 painting “American People Series #20: Die.”



Here’s Wall Street Journal Arts in Review editor Eric Gibson in a piece headlined “Bigger, Yet Somehow Smaller.”

Most significantly, MoMA has abandoned the longstanding chronological, movement-by-movement display that made it to modern art what Florence’s Uffizi Gallery is to Renaissance painting: the indispensable textbook . . .

[T]hat overall concept is marred by instances of special pleading and political tub-thumping, the latter nowhere more egregious than in the gallery containing Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (1907). This is the painting that launched the Cubist revolution, seedground for many of 20th-century art’s subsequent innovations. As you would expect, it keeps company with later Cubist works by Picasso and his comrade Georges Braque. But hanging with it is Faith Ringgold’s “American People Series #20: Die” (1967)—a painting of a race riot.

You don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Let’s be honest: The two are oil and water, despite a wall text arguing otherwise.

It’s not just the wall text arguing otherwise – it’s also New York Times art critic Holland Carter in this piece.

The gallery itself is a virtual Picasso shrine, with his 1907 “Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon” at the center, and related pictures ranged around it. But there’s a major out-of-time entry here too: a 1967 painting, acquired in 2016, by the African-American artist Faith Ringgold depicting an explosive interracial shootout. Titled “American People Series #20: Die,” it speaks to “Demoiselles” both in physical size and in visual violence. And just by being there it points up the problematic politics of a work like Picasso’s — with its fractured female bodies and colonialist appropriations — that is at the core of the collection. MoMA traditionalists will call the pairing sacrilegious; I call it a stroke of curatorial genius.

Let’s be honest: Those two readings are oil and water. Stir vigorously, eh?

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2 Responses to Newly Renovated MoMA Is Museum of Modern Arguing

  1. Bill S. says:

    $450 mill–that’s truly serious money to have raised. (I wonder how many school improvements the donors could have supported with that kind of contribution $….oh, well, never mind me asking silly questions)
    And to have done it all in 4 months (per your lead) –also impressive,

    • Campaign Outsider says:

      I think they prepped for two months, Bill, but yeah – pretty impressive. (With mixed reviews for the results.)

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