When the Modern reopened its Yoshio Taniguchi-designed doors in 2004, critical opinion of the new building was split. Some critics and museum visitors complained that the building, and the institution it housed, seemed to lack a point of view, and that it was geared more toward moving hoards of tourists than to contemplative art viewing. One longtime MoMA watcher, however, cautioned me, “We always hate the new MoMA. Then you get used to it and grow to love it.”
While hoards of tourists have not gone away, recently the museum seems to be getting more comfortable in its skin. In the architecture and design galleries, small thematic exhibitions have helped to focus the viewing experience, breaking down the Greatest Hits approach that has made so many design galleries indistinguishable from showrooms. Currently on view are strong capsule exhibitions on Jean Prouvé, the graphic designer George Lois, and a group show called Rough Cut: Design Takes on a Sharp Edge (which is a bit of a rehash of Safe: Design Takes on Risk, but is full of interesting work).
Perhaps the most challenging area of the new building is the vast five story atrium, currently, and pleasantly, inhabited by a massive video installation, Pipliotti Rist: Pour Your Body Out (7354 Cubic Meters), commissioned by the Museum specifically for the space. While large-scale installations have become common in museums, and are geared to spectacle hungry cultural travelers, there is something joyful and welcoming about Rist’s piece, especially during the holidays in congested midtown. Pour Your Body Out invites you to recline on a massive circular couch, embedded with speakers, to take in the color saturated show and immerse yourself in what chief media curator Klaus Biesenbach called an image “pool.” Rist has said she wanted the installation to “kiss Taniguchi.” Even at 25 feet high, Rist’s video only begins to fill the atrium, though she cleverly covered the high catwalks with pink curtains, containing the sound and providing some much needed warmth and intimacy to the vast white space.
In the video below, Biesenbach discusses the installation and how it is meant to work in Taniguchi’s gallery. Pour Your Body Out is on view through Feburary 2.