On April 12, news broke that the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) would be temporarily closing its gallery spaces dedicated to architecture and design, causing an uproar in the architecture press. The New York institution then clarified that it was closing the galleries due to the expansion and renovations being undertaken by New York's Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and that the finished museum would have two separate suites dedicated to the collections, each measuring at 5,000 and 10,000 square feet, to provide a more flexible space for installations and exhibitions. Futhermore, the museum looked to assure the public that the architectural and design collection, and its staff, would remain intact, although key pieces of that collection would now be presented a multidisciplinary way.
But even after these statements by the museum, critics and enthusiasts have been mourning what they perceive as a huge loss to architecture and design. As Aaron Betsky put it on this site, "Nothing shines a spotlight on architecture the way a MoMA exhibition does." Betsky also argued integrating architecture and design elements of a collection with the other collections in the museum's holdings are a very difficult trick to pull off. "I tried the integrated display myself as a museum director," Betsky wrote, "and found that the pressure of the powerful curators who have more traditional media as their purview (and marketing people and support groups behind them) means that the sprinkling of design artifacts remains vestigial, while architecture drawings, models, and experimental objects—which are so difficult for a general public to understand—don’t have a chance."
But the curators at MoMA want to reassure museum goers and design enthusiasts, yet again, that the architecture and design collections and galleries are not actually going away. The spaces are changing due to the museum's renovation and they haven't as yet figured out the final form the galleries will take. But they do insist, in the below letter that they released today, that the collection is in no danger of being out of sight forever.
In a letter addressed to editors of architecture and design publications released today:
Recently, a number of articles and commentaries in the architectural press and on social media have suggested that The Museum of Modern Art will no longer have any exhibition spaces for works from its Architecture and Design Department, and that our rich collection will no longer be on view. This is absolutely not true.
MoMA’s commitment to continuing to collect, preserve, and exhibit works of architecture and design is steadfast. A significant number of architecture and design works from the collection are currently featured in multi-disciplinary exhibitions that bring the vast and diverse holdings of the Museum’s collection into new and meaningful encounters and dialogues. The former galleries for the design collection on the 3rd floor, following a gentle reconfiguration, currently host A Japanese Constellation: Toyo Ito, SANAA, and Beyond. This fall, they will display a collection-based show on modern interiors featuring recent acquisitions such as the study-bedroom furnishings from the Maison du Brésil at the Cité Universitaire in Paris, designed by Charlotte Perriand and Le Corbusier, a group of Eileen Gray’s original personal furnishings, and outstanding examples of furniture designed by Lina Bo Bardi.
While three galleries formerly used for collection displays, including the Architecture gallery, are temporarily closed as part of the first phase of the Museum’s expansion project, they are being redesigned and will reopen in a new configuration in early 2017 that will consist of two new, large exhibition spaces for various special exhibitions, including a major exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright in June 2017. Other upcoming shows focused specifically on architecture or design include a collection-based show on the topic of borders and refugees; an exhibition on the early computer age that will highlight some of our recent acquisitions and strong holdings in contemporary design; a major exhibition on fashion and technology titled Items: Is Fashion Modern?; and The Architecture of Socialist Yugoslavia, 1945-1991, the first survey show on architectural experimentation in former Yugoslavia.
In terms of the next iteration of MoMA, still several years away, my fellow chief curators and I are studying the opportunities that the expansion, with approximately 50,000 more square feet for exhibitions and the collection and a 30% increase in gallery space for the collection, offers. We are fully committed to presenting our rich collection in a way that will do justice to the specific needs of each medium, including architecture and design, while making visible the many meaningful connections among the arts. It is a strategy that we think of as “both/and” – we want both medium-dedicated galleries and more broadly comprehensive ones, and we are dedicated to achieving this. There is no change of policy in this regard, and the abolishing of architecture and design-designated galleries is not and has never been an issue under consideration.
Our goals continue to be the pursuit of a strong curatorial vision that will show the magnificent riches of the collection and contribute to scholarship and discourse at the very highest levels.
The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design