MoMA slipped a major announcement about its central mission into yesterday's press preview for the museum's new $50m renovations and the unveiling of the final $400m expansion. What's so interesting about the announcement isn't really the museum's new but vaguely described mission but the fact that the museum and its leadership has received very little scrutiny at a time when the city's other major cultural institutions have been through significant upheaval.
It's true that the New York Times didn't go after Met director Tom Campbell's scalp until after the museum admitted it was unable to fund its aggressive expansion ambitions and was running a deficit. That gave the newspaper the opening to question the museum's leadership first the director—though the newspaper missed and had to double back upon the most eye-catching example of Campbell's management failure—and then the board.
MoMA may be getting a free pass on scrutiny because the museum's finances seem to rock solid. Though the press announcement would have been a good moment to examine how MoMA has financed its expansion. The museum says it has already raised the money for the $450m expansion.
The New York Times says that fundraising was helped along by David Geffen's $100m gift to the museum. But its own report in 2016 said that Geffen's gift would mean that his name would go on the galleries being built in the super-tall Jean Nouvel condo tower that is part of the expanded complex (and surely contributed substantially to the museum's ability to quickly meet the fundraising objectives.) The Times, which usually abhors any suggestion that commercial interests might benefit from cultural institutions, was silent on this aspect of the story. (Though this residential tower is not the first time that MoMA has funded its expansion through the luxury real estate market.)
Having said that, there are two other important questions about MoMA, its future and leadership, raised by the announcement that are worth exploring further.
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