MoMA’s first purpose-built building, at 11 West 53rd Street, opened to the public in 1939. It was designed amid lively debates around the question, “How should modern art be exhibited?” Many believed that the radically new forms of early-20th-century art required strikingly new types of spaces in which they would be encountered by the public. Proposals ranged dramatically—from the scale of the cabinet to the scale of the tower. Some exhibition designers carefully choreographed the trajectory and even the posture of visitors, while others created loosely structured, expansive spaces that encouraged serendipitous discoveries and open-ended associations between works. On the occasion of MoMA’s most recent expansion, looking back at some of these concepts reminds us that the architecture of museums, galleries, and exhibitions plays an important role in determining how art is experienced.
Organized by Barry Bergdoll, guest curator, with Evangelos Kotsioris, Assistant Curator, Department of Architecture and Design.