The New Museum, in New York City, has just announced its Fortieth Anniversary Capital Campaign for expansion and endowment. They trumpeted the announcement the way museums like to get their fundraising started – by stating the drive’s goals ($80 million) and how much has already been pledged (“Over $40 million). The current museum building, designed by noted architecture firm SANAA, is ten years old, and could benefit from expansion; in my opinion, the pleasurably whimsical exterior does not carry into its undersized, industrial gallery spaces. The museum’s press release notes (in bold type), “Renovating its adjacent property at 231 Bowery will provide additional space for programs while adding urgently needed of office and support spaces.”
Speculation about a larger New Museum included one question: would the museum start a permanent collection? There is no mention of such plans, and they would seem to fly in the face of the museum’s history. As Massimiliano Gioni, the museum’s Edlis Neeson Artistic Director, said, “At nearly forty, and after nine exciting years on the Bowery, the New Museum has radically transformed itself while remaining true to its ethos: it is a nimble, fast, and interventionist institution with an experimental attitude—not a temple where history is celebrated, but a powerhouse where ideas are tested, canons are questioned, and art is seen as a lens through which to understand society.” The idea of a museum which has no permanent collection is still hard to figure – collections define so many museums – but in order for “New” to keep its meaning a permanent collection is problematic. Consider that “Modern,” a perfectly useful word, was boxed in museums until it had to be supplanted by “Contemporary.”
The museum field is in a tremendous phase of growth. The Whitney Museum of American Art moved into its new digs in May, 2015; the Metropolitan Museum of Art is renting the Whitney’s former home and using it to expand their contemporary program. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art reopened this month after a much needed expansion. Competition for audiences is fierce when you have just spent a lot of money and have extra space to heat and light. Good luck to the New Museum – and here’s hoping they won’t need luck.