/ Filip Noterdaeme confronts MoMA Director Glenn Lowry about the new $20 admission 
Filip Noterdaeme confronts MoMA Director Glenn Lowry about the new $20 admission

December 23, 2004


The New MoMA: The Mall of Modern Art

The new Museum of Modern Art hails itself as "a kind of laboratory in which to engage the public with its programs and ideas." In fact, it has become an exclusive club for the affluent. The museum's new $20 admission price makes it the most expensive major museum in the country, leaving many New Yorkers behind.

In his "Thoughts and Reflections on The New Museum of Modern Art," Glenn D. Lowry, the Modern's Director, stresses the "metabolic or self-renewing character of MoMA." But I cannot find this aspect revealed in the cold, corporate-looking edifice that cost some $850 million to build. Apparently self-conscious about MoMA's new slick front, Mr. Lowry resorts to fiction in his assessment of the museum's social role: "The new Museum of Modern Art, like the old Museum of Modern Art, is a work in progress in which the public is invited to participate."

The Museum of Modern Art has reached a point of intellectual and spiritual paralysis. In its new, self-aggrandizing form, MoMA comes across more as a massive shopping mall than as a place of knowledge and inquiry for the 21st century. Fifteen minutes before the museum's closing time, a pre-recorded voice invites visitors to vacate the galleries and, in the same breath, announces the museum's extended store hours. As people are ushered towards the exit, MoMA's new identity is revealed in full: the new Museum of Modern Art is the new Mall of Modern Art in which you are invited to express your love for modern art in dollars.

Art belongs to the people it inspires, not just to those who can afford to view or consume it. To create different classes of citizens among art lovers is not what the founders of the Museum of Modern art envisioned. In a recent article for the New York Times, art critic Michael Kimmelman called the new entrance fee "an appalling and cynical figure" and described the museum's new main public space as a "chilly box." Writing for the New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl called the twenty-dollar admission price "extortionate" and compared the new MoMA to "a brilliant ocean liner, adrift at midnight. It awes while going nowhere."

Shamefully, there was only one other artist beside myself (Dan Levenson staged a protest called Free MoMA) who dared to publicly speak up against MoMA's forbidding new entrance fee and accuse Mr. Lowry and Ronald S. Lauder, the Modern's Chairman, of turning the museum into a theme park for middle and upper class consumers. For my protest, I designed flyers that parodied MoMA's new slogan, replacing "Manhattan is Modern Again" with "Manhattan is Robbed Again." I organized a peaceful initiative, Penniless at the Modern, which recruited supporters to pay the new entrance fee entirely in pennies. Finally, I wrote an open letter asking the museum to extend its free hours (currently sponsored by Target and limited to four hours on Friday evenings) to one whole day per week.

Filip Noterdaeme