(2 of 2)
Taniguchi was a surprise selection to design the new MOMA. Although the architect has a number of choice projects to his credit in Japan, including eight museums, the man is so little known in the U.S. that one baffled well-wisher congratulated Terence Riley, MOMA's chief curator of architecture and design, thinking the museum had selected an Italian architect, Tony Gucci. In an era of glamorously expressionist architecture, of Frank Gehry's voluptuous Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, MOMA has opted for a work of what you might call old-fashioned Modernism, clean-lined and rectilinear, a subtly updated version of the glass-and-steel box that the museum first championed in the 1930s, years before that style was adopted for corporate headquarters everywhere.
In fact, what Taniguchi has delivered is a building that offers MOMA to the world as the global headquarters of Modern Art Inc. With its long, immaculate planes of charcoal gray granite and milky white glass, his museum emanates taste, restraint, formal intelligence and authority. Those are occasional values of contemporary art as well. Then again, so are effrontery, vulgarity and obfuscation, with occasional detours into buffoonery, kitsch and porn. If it's at the heart of MOMA's mission to continually sort through the muck, it will now do so in a building that says the art world may have its forays into nonsense, but not us; we are serious.
That may not be a message the contemporary art world wants to hear. And there have been grumblings about MOMA's eye-opening new admission fee: $20. A number of American museums have been inching toward that figure, but MOMA will be the first to take the plunge. The museum is free on Friday nights and free to children 16 and under. There are student and senior discounts. All the same, for a lot of people, it won't be a place where you just stroll in at lunchtime anymore. Will the headquarters of modern art also become the castle keep, a fortress surrounded by a moat called $20? "It falls on us," says Lowry, "to make sure that the value greatly exceeds the cost." The Modern has always lived up to that goal in the past. But this time, it has set its bar pretty high.