The Museum of Modern Art was one of the first museums ever to make architecture and design a feature of their collection. MoMA established an independent Department of Architecture and Design in 1930, creating a huge impact on both fields. As its founding director, the late Philip Johnson basically became the de facto czar of New York’s architectural scene. In 1988, for example, he curated a show at MoMA titled “Deconstructivist Architecture” which helped to launch the careers of such A-list starchitects as Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas and Daniel Libeskind. If you were an ambitious architect or designer wanting to hit the big time, you had to go through MoMA.
But all of that perhaps is a bit too 2Oth-century for The Modern of today. The museum has announced that it is closing its architecture and design galleries as part of a renovation helmed by the team of Diller Scofidio and Renfro—the same renovation, by the way, that led MoMA to tear down the American Folk Art Museum next door after that institution sold the building to The Modern to pay off the debt it incurred in constructing the place.
The affair wound up giving MoMA the reputation for being the Dr. Evil of museums, and it’s unlikely their current plans will endear them to fans of design and architecture. Instead of their own galleries, objects from those holdings will be displayed with other parts of the collection. The virtue of this interdisciplinary approach, according to MoMA, is to put architect and design within the context of art and vice-versa. Sounds good on paper, except for the nagging suspicion that somehow the move has something to do with catering to tourists—which, after all, has been the basis for just about every decision MoMA has made in the last 20 years.
Update: According to press reps at MoMA, the Architecture and Design Galleries are not being closed permanently. They note that the shuttering is only part of a larger reshuffling that will affect all of the galleries during the renovation. They also add that MoMA will announce how the galleries will be finally installed in the expanded museum as the rebuilding nears completion. In the meantime, there will still be focused exhibitions of architecture and design.