John D. Rockefeller, Jr. was strongly against the idea of his wife Abby Eldridge Rockefeller opening a museum of contemporary art. In general, the aesthetic of contemporary art was not to his liking. Could he then have assumed that the Rockefeller name will remain in the history of America, among other things, as the first patrons of contemporary art, and the museum that Abby founded will not only be the leading museum of the country, but also define the concept of “modern art”!
If John D. Rockefeller knew this back in 1929, he would have immediately allocated land for the museum on 53rd Street, but he refused to participate in the event, conceived by his wife and her two girlfriends (from here on in let’s call the trio “The Ladies”), and the exhibitions had to change three times until he understood the importance of what they had done, and then, he allocated a piece of land for the museum building.
It would probably have been a beautiful complex, but these neighborhoods didn’t just simply belong to Rockefeller. His family lived there (and I think still does). He couldn’t very well evict his relatives!
The first exhibition of contemporary art, organized by the “The Ladies,” opened in the Heckscher Building, at 730 5th Avenue. Well, it was a good start, even though only six rooms on the 12th floor were rented. It happened on November 7, 1929, nine days after “Black Tuesday,” which went down in history as the beginning of America’s Great Depression. You might be thinking 47 thousand people who unexpectedly visited the museum said “these Rockefellers are so out of touch with the people.” But from the exhibition it’s not entirely clear what American people thought about Rochefellers.
The foundation for the idea of MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) is the same concept as for most modern art museums – a challenge to all that is conservative. As modern artists are against traditional forms of art, so were the founders of this new museum, when they decided to abandon a permanent museum collection and only create temporary exhibitions, providing a platform for avant-garde artists to present new trends.
So, the enchanting museum opened an exhibition with the participation of artists that were already known in Europe but not yet familiar to Americans, artists who refracted space and social consciousness: Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, and Seurat. It was quite an adventurous step, because before that, all of the American museums refused to show these artists’ work, fearing total rejection from the public. But it was a success! The audience showed great interest on one hand, while at the same time displaying lack of understanding of these controversial trends in art. The museum was faced with the issue of educating the public and the first museum director Alfred Barr formulated this absolutely new, revolutionary idea of future work: the museum must become an education center for the people, provide knowledge, show all the new achievements in the arts, fine art, graphics, design, photography, cinema, sculpture and architecture. Today we can bravely add: installations, video, computer graphics and a lot more of which Alfred Barr couldn’t even imagine; at the time of becoming the museum director he was all of 27 years old.
According to his philosophy, the concept of “modern art” may be applicable to the object of art not more than 50-60 years old. Earlier art falls into the category of “classic,” and becomes part of history. And in 1931, negotiations with the Metropolitan Museum for transferring all “expired” works of art to their collections began, and in 1947 this contract was signed.
But at some point, it was found that according to this doctrine, all the original works, which brought such a huge success to the museum, had to leave the avant-garde art scene. The authors created their paintings at the end of second half of the 19th C. and the works had already reached the “limit” of 50 years of age. But by this time, modernism has conquered the world and the people, who, having accepted the concept, wanted to see these masterpieces! After all, this is what the fight was all about – popularization and recognition. It turned out that these works were now worth an incredible monetary value and would have to become the property of Metropolitan Museum of Art!
Well, it is not a coincidence that members of the Rockefeller family were among MoMA’s Board of Trustees and are. Through the efforts of the Board of Trustees in 1953 the contract with Metropolitan Museum of Art was terminated and, contrary to Barr’s philosophy, but by following simple logic, the museum had begun to select its own collection. The same thing happened to MoMA that happened to all the avant-garde art – it had become a classic, a traditional museum. It repeated the enchanting round of modern art of the early 20th C., but repeated change of form did not affect substance.
At some point, MoMA had lost its status as an avant-garde exhibition space. In addition, in the mid20th C., Art Nouveau became elitist, difficult to understand and required not only general knowledge but also an analytical approach.
Alfred Barr’s innovative principle (formulated in 1936) was enlisted to help create the exhibit based on the evolution of the form, rather than on chronological order, as was accepted earlier. The exhibition “Cubism and Abstract Art” clearly explained to the audience the development of this direction step by step. This brought the audience back into museum halls. Furthermore, the same principle formed the basis for the MoMA collection: to create the collection based on directions working on changing the form. Today’s exhibitions are held by the same token.
The MoMA building was erected in 1939 (11 West 53rd Street), but towards the 1950′s it needed to expand and the Architecture Department Curator of the museum, Fillip Johnson, designed a new project where two added wings of the building were united with a Sculpture Garden, located under an open sky. The Sculpture Garden was named after Abby Aldrich Rockefeller.
In 1990′s, due to extreme growth of interest in the museum, the international contest to fully reconstruct the building was announced. In 1997 Japanese Architect Yoshio Taniguchi won this contest. The reconstruction began in 2002 and museum’s exhibits moved to a former factory building in Queens for two years. The new MoMA building opened on November 20, 2004 and immediately instigated a lot of discussion.
Today MoMA is an industry in the sphere of modern art. The idea of Alfred Barr about the educational function of museum has led to today’s corporation MoMA, which owns a book publishing company, book store, modern design store (located next to the museum), Cinema Roy and Niute Titus Theaters (located on the two floors in museum basement), Department of Film library that stores a huge collection of world cinematographic masterpieces, starting with “Great Silent” and ending with modern films, as well as the restaurant “The Modern,” located inside the museum building.
Among the most complex items that continue to cause controversy is “Subject” (“Fur Breakfast”), 1936, Meret Oppenheim; the layout of Edgar Kaufmann’s villa “Above the Waterfall,” 1934-1937, by Frank Lloyd Wright; “The giant soft fan,” 1966-1967, Claes Oldenburg; figure “Man Pointing,” 1947, Alberto Giacometti; “Untitled” (from the series ”Marilyn Monroe”), 1967, Andy Warhol.
For example, MoMA is planning to open a great retrospective exhibition of the artist Donald Judd (1928-1994) in the fall of 2017. Will this exhibition be as sensational as his previous exhibits were? The exhibition curator Ann Timkin says: yes, of course! Maybe. But in any case, we will see what will shock the visitors in his exhibit.
To read the complete article please subscribe or purchase the magazine http://inlovemag.com/subscribe/