Director of Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York
Lowry’s Museum of Modern Art may have only just reopened on 21 October, after four months of building works, but the $450m project to refurbish and extend the 90-year-old institution’s galleries and public spaces isn’t simply about showing more of the museum’s 200,000 or so works. Instead, Lowry declares, it’s about making ‘space that allows
us to rethink the experience of art in the Museum’.
As moma’s chief curator of painting and sculpture, Ann Temkin, pointed out, this isn’t ‘more room to do exactly what we did, the same way we did it’. Lowry’s goal is for a museum oering a more global representation of art’s history, and a better representation of the diversity of artists working now and across the decades. The sixty-seven-year-old
director has explained that the newly expanded museum will change its displays every six to nine months; it will be a ‘work in progress’ in which the linear, often static narrative of art will become an evolving one. And while MoMA’s turn to a more global and plural perspective on art history might not be the first among the big international museums, no other institution can match the quality and depth of its staggering collection of twentieth- and twenty-first-century art. Meanwhile, moma’s inaugural exhibitions, featuring African-American, African and Asian artists including Pope.L, Betye Saar and Haegue Yang, bear witness to its commitment to the contemporary axis of that global view.
While moma was being overhauled, its director has been busy projecting his vision of a truly global institution. Whether it was speaking out against the current freeze on museum loans between the us and Russia at a conference in February, or extolling the virtues of art scenes in the uae, India and Korea, Lowry is an incessant networker. Brokering influence is one of Lowry’s strong suits – the presentation of paintings by the Kenyan Michael Armitage comes as the first of a series of shows
curated for moma by Studio Museum Harlem’s Thelma Golden (herself tipped as a potential successor to Lowry). Another opening show, Sur moderno, showcases the large gift of Latin American art made by supercollector (and moma board member) Patricia Phelps de Cisneros. And while the physical moma was closed, its brand was being broadcast on yet other channels: in June moma launched its online magazine, while to mark its reopening it announced, partnering with the bbc, a 30-part podcast series on art.
To realise his vision Lowry has assiduously developed a younger generation of curatorial staff, joining key figures such as Temkin. This year saw the appointment of Briton Kate Fowle, from Moscow’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, to helm moma ps1 in Queens. Fowle is the most recent addition to a curatorial staff that includes Stuart Comer (media and performance art), Christophe Cherix (drawings and prints), Rajendra Roy (film) and Martino Stierli (architecture and design). moma’s departments, once carefully separated, are now cocurating the displays holistically.
By definition, a $450m expansion doesn’t come cheap, so it helps to have friends with deep pockets – confirming its expansion plans in February, it also announced an unprecedented $200m gift from the David Rockefeller Estate. Nevertheless, Lowry has had to deal with the increasingly controversial question of private philanthropy in the wake of the
resignation of Warren Kanders from the board of the nearby Whitney Museum; as moma opened its doors for the launch party, campaigners were demanding that board member Larry Fink, ceo of financial firm Black Rock, divest from companies involved in running for-profit prisons.
Perhaps in recognition of how much moma’s recent fortunes are tied to Lowry’s leadership, the museum changed its rules to allow him to continue as director until 2025. Lowry’s tenure is already the longest in the institution’s history. Having achieved the task of turning this twentieth-century institution into one fit for the twenty-first, the question might now, as moma heads towards its centenary, be how Lowry sets the stage for his successor.
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