Tuesday, May 02, 2006


MoMA Does It Right

With all the criticism hurled at the year-old mega-MoMA, it's time to heap some praise on the Museum of Modern Art's enlightened collecting policy, as exemplified by its new show of contemporary art from the collection of Edward Broida. Unlike the Metropolitan Museum, which has allowed the flow and logic of its galleries to be disrupted by individual collectors' fiefdoms (Linsky, Annenberg, Gelman, etc.), MoMA has always showcased collectors' gifts in special exhibitions, and then integrated those works with the rest of its collection.

MoMA caught undeserved flak for following this long-established policy with its 2005 display of the UBS collection. What the critics should have complained about (but didn't) was not that this was a "corporate" show, but that it included works still privately owned by UBS, in addition to those given to MoMA. This broke with MoMA's own policy of not displaying private collections unless they are promised. UBS can now, if it chooses, do what so many other corporations have done once the art-collecting CEO (in this case, MoMA trustee Donald Marron) leaves the business: It can sell these works, their value enhanced by MoMA's prestigious imprimatur.

But back to Broida: As told to me by Peter Reed, senior deputy director for curatorial affairs, the museum labored mightily to get this show up in time for the terminally ill collector to see it. Sadly, it was not quite fast enough: He died of cancer last month.

At the press preview today, curator Ann Temkin tellingly observed that Broida almost never sold his art but collected "for the long haul...a welcome counterpoint to the very 'for the moment' approach to collecting art right now."

Best-in-show: Jennifer Bartlett's glorious 1976 tour de force, "Rhapsody"--- all 987, one-foot-square panels of it---getting a rare, full-scale installation and looking as if it had been made for MoMA's atrium space. This success suggests that MoMA's intimidatingly cavernous anteroom might best be conquered by commissioning site-specific works, as done by the Tate Modern for its enormous turbine hall.

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