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MOMA Rules

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by Michelle Zis

Like a powerful leader of a country, the Museum of Modern Art dominates the art world. I almost feel like MOMA warrants its own regular news column. Since the reopening this past fall, after an $858 million dollar expansion, MOMA is still making headlines. The continuous string of articles ranges from the museum’s architecture, a steep $20 entrance fee, and its identity crisis over showing both modern and contemporary art. (Last month’s Art Watch reported on MOMA’s role in the firing of NPR arts correspondent David D’arcy after his news story about the Nazi-tainted provenance of a work on loan at the museum.) Here are two more stories relating to MOMA, the reigning queen of the museum world·

And what a rich queen she is. Chairman Emeritus David Rockefeller will be pledging $100 million towards the museum’s endowment, the largest gift MOMA has ever received. (I did the math, folks: $100 million would cover the $20 entrance fee for 5 million visitors!) The money will go towards expanding public programs. The 89-year-old Rockefeller said the museum will receive the money after his death, except for $5 million that will be donated every year for as long as he lives.

The generosity of this type of gift creates a friendly competition between the other New York billionaires, who enjoy giving to the arts and hope that their family name will be placed on a shiny plaque in one of the museum’s wings. Ronald S. Lauder, the museum’s chairman for the past decade, recently gave $65 million to the Queen – ahem, I mean, MOMA – along with donating works by Picasso, Matisse and Richard Serra.


John Elderfield, MOMA’s Chief Curator of the Department of Painting and Sculpture, made Time Magazine’s Time 100, a list of the 100 most influential people in the world. No artist made the list (although architect Santiago Calatrava and designer Marc Newson did). In May 2003, Artforum published an article describing the appointment of Elderfield and the role of chief curator at MOMA as often called the most powerful in the art world. (He previously held the position of MOMA’s Chief Curator-at-Large). Perhaps MOMA-hater and art critic Charlie Finch hit it right on the button with his opinion of Modern Starts, the final exhibition in the old building, in which Elderfield, sought to bury the myth of the great artist·and who shall replace the ‘great artist?’ Well, the great curator of course·

May 2005

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