NEW YORK, Sept. 4 (UPI) -- A trip to the Museum of Modern Art's temporary home in the outer borough of Queens is like a visit to a small planet in the city's universe of major museums.
Formerly a major destination for many tourists to New York, especially in the summer months, MoMA has been reduced to an optional attraction by its move to a former Swingline staple factory in the Long Island City section of Queens, across the East River from Manhattan, even though the trip there is short and relatively easy.
Daily attendance is 1,000 to 2,000, down from a normal 6,500, and weekend attendance is running 2,000 to 3,000, according to a museum spokesman, who pointed out that this drop is in line with MoMA's pre-move projections. Attendance is expected to pick up dramatically when a "Matisse Picasso" blockbuster exhibit opens next February for a three-month run.
The new MoMA can be reached by subway from Times Square, a 10-minute ride, or by a free hourly shuttle bus on weekends from the museum's 63-year-old midtown building, which is undergoing a three-year renovation and expansion. The subway is the best approach since it provides a dramatic view of dark boxes atop the deep blue museum building decorated with fragmented white letters that form themselves into the MoMA logo as the train approaches the 33rd Street stop in Queens.
Redesign of the industrial site for museum use was the brilliant accomplishment of Michael Malzan, a Los Angeles architect working with Scott Newman of Cooper, Robertson and Partners of New York.
Malzan has introduced a lobby with spaces for projected films and a series of attractive ramps that keep visitors on the move, connecting them to a café and bookstore on a mezzanine level. The exhibition spaces, with high ceilings revealing painted, exposed ductwork, are on one interconnecting level, separated by movable white partitions. The gray, stained concrete factory floors have been left intact but highly polished.
There are only 25,000 square feet that can be used for exhibitions, compared to 80,000 square feet in the old museum, which means that a visitor no longer has to spend a whole day at MoMA if he wants to see everything on display. A two-hour visit to the Queens installation should suffice, since only 70 works from the 100,000-item permanent collection are on display along with three temporary exhibitions.
Most of the museum's prime holdings can be seen and appear to be begging for re-evaluation. These include Pablo Picasso's "Les Damoiselles d'Avignon," Henri Matisse's "Dance," Vincent Van Gogh's "The Starry Night," Paul Cezanne's "The Bather," Henri Rousseau's "The Dream," Piet Mondrian's "Broadway Boogie Woogie," and Jackson Pollock's "One." The larger paintings in the collection look marvelous, even fresh, on the huge wall areas, but smaller works seem somewhat awash in space.
The temporary exhibitions are a theme show titled "Tempo" made up of multimedia installations by artists from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas, which focus on various cultural concepts of time. "AUTObodies," is the museum's first exhibition of its entire collection of outstandingly designed cars, six in number, and visitors can view gritty photographs of Queens' Astoria neighborhood by Swiss-born photographer Rudy Burckhardt.
"Tempo" is one of those disappointingly artificial shows that museums put together to show how avant-garde they are and is full of meaningless displays of clocks, metronomes, videos, and other visual representation that, according to the museum, "address distinct perceptions of time" including -- for no particular reason except that it is fashionable -- time in post-colonial societies.
The automobile exhibit is much more exciting, ranging from a bright red 1946 Cisitalia sports model and a 1953 Willys-Overland jeep to Ferrari's 1990 Formula 1 racing car and the contemporary Smart Car, a recent acquisition.
Burckhardt's photos, taken from two unpublished albums of 1940s prints, are extremely poetic and film-like in their sequences. His work inspired poet Edwin Denby to write sonnets about Queens, several of which are included in the exhibition. This is an unexpected and entirely suitable tribute to the city's largest borough that is rapidly becoming the venue for museums of contemporary art and studios of active artists.
MoMA is expected to move back to Manhattan and into its gigantic new $650 million museum, designed by Yoshio Taniguchi of Japan, early in 2005. In the meantime, its 180,000-volume library will be available to scholars and the public in Queens and its popular film program will be relocated to the Gramercy Theater in Manhattan beginning in October.