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MoMA: How to Look at Modern Art-Abramovic

Museum as Oxygen Station of The City

The Museum of Modern Art, designed by Yoshio Taniguchi. The Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium looking east towards 5th Avenue with Barnett Newman’s “Broken Obelisk” (1963-69) and Willem de Kooning’s “Pirate (Untitled II)” (1981). © 2005 Timothy Hursley.

First of all, I would like to point out that I am more and more against criticism in general. Through my own experience, I have learned that at the end of the day, criticism brings more bad than good energy to the table. In looking to the past, I notice that most major new museums, biennales, documentas, etc., automatically bring more criticism than actual appraisal. To criticize is easy; to do something reactive in response is another thing. Last year, one of the major events in New York City was the opening of MoMA. Like everybody else, I went to two of the numerous openings and here are my observations.

Architectural Frame:

I was nicely surprised by how minimal, elegant, spacious, and modern it was at the same time. It appeared so different from all of the other architectural designs for recent museums. It becomes so exhausting to see museum after museum, trying to out-do each other in architectural terms, becoming so abstracted they lose sight of their function and become nearly impossible to display art in. In the ’80s, when I exhibited at the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris, I had to compete with the “architecture in pajamas.” It became a pure horror; walls were not real, there were huge open ceilings, too many windows, and many different colored pipes. It was the typical syndrome where the architecture replaced the artwork and artist. Thankfully at MoMA, this has not happened. Maybe MoMA is more conservative than other museums; but in my opinion, the idea is to show the art, and the building should be sympathetic to it, not dominating.


If the architecture of the museum is somewhat more conservative, it does not mean the art itself should be, too. Like many other people, what I miss in MoMA is the contemporary art. While it displays a superior collection of modern art, I miss a concern with photography and video, not to mention performance, which is not presented at all, as though it never existed.

The Future:

As I said earlier, I am against criticism, so I will give my suggestions for the future of MoMA:

1. There should be younger-generation curators, addressing the missing contemporary art issues in the museum.

2. MoMA should take more risks in their exhibitions, reflecting the new directions in art. In the late 1960s, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam showed the performance work of Gilbert and George in the context of the museum, which in retrospect was quite a radical move, as performance was not shown in any museum at that time.

3. MoMA should accommodate the new demands of art. The MAK Museum in Vienna emptied it’s entire content in 2002, in order to free the space of the pressure of its historical function, while they had a symposium about the function and purpose of the modern art museum. This museum without art was the perfect neutral space in which to discuss these ideas.

4. The 19th century idea about the relationship between the museum, the art, and the public should be updated, abandoning old traditional modes of display, out-dated security protocol, and fixed assumptions about the manner in which a museum can function. These restrictions do nothing but limit what is possible. Artists should not have to compromise how they show their work in the year 2005. The future lies in our awareness of our position in the history of art, to reflect on contemporary art in the context of tradition as it develops in the 21st century. 


Marina Abramovic

MARINA ABRAMOVIC has been a New-York based performance artist since the 1970s.


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2005

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