The Armory Show speaks with Glenn D. Lowry, Director of New York's Museum of Modern Art since 1995, to discuss his vision for the future of MoMA, and how museums must respond to the current political climate. — Interview by Audrey Rose Smith
“Among the most important changes that have occurred in the last twenty years is the recognition that museums are no longer (if they ever were) passive places.”
How has the role of a museum changed since MoMA was established in 1929, and since your appointment in 1995? How have the expectations of the public and the art world transformed during this time?
Among the most important changes that have occurred in the last twenty years is the recognition that museums are no longer (if they ever were) passive places, but rather places of encounter and conversation that are about bringing art and people together. With the advent of digital technologies and the use of social media this also means that our audiences have expanded dramatically and connect with us physically as well as virtually so that all of us have become multi-dimensional institutions.
Does the museum have a social responsibility? If so, what is this responsibility and who is tasked with determining these values?
I do believe that museums have social responsibilities—we do not exist in a vacuum—we are integral to our communities and must respond to the needs of those communities. I do not think any one person or group determines these values or responsibilities, but rather boards working with staff and various constituencies end up developing positions together. Sometimes this is easy, at other times it can be very complicated if not contentious.
During your time at MoMA you have lead major initiatives such as the merger of The Museum of Modern Art and PS1 Contemporary Art Center, the creation of the Media and Performance Art Department and the Contemporary and Modern Art Perspectives in a Global Age Initiative (C-MAP), in addition to the 2004 and 2019 expansions. Has there been an initiative that stands out to you as having been most successful in pushing your vision forward?
My commitment has always been to building and strengthening our staff and expanding our artistic and intellectual horizons. So [MoMA’s] merger with PS1 was essential to both affirming and broadening our commitment to contemporary art, just as the acquisition of the Cisneros collections of modern and contemporary art and the creation of the Cisneros Institute enable us to dramatically enhance our Latin American programs.
How will MoMA look to evolve over the next decade as public cultural institutions continue to be challenged and influenced by an increasingly globalized and connected audience?
As our audiences on site and online continue to expand and diversify, we will need to expand and diversify with them. This means understanding the needs and desires of these audiences as much as it means developing exhibitions and programs that address urgent issues. We are already a global institution in terms of who visits us, and the art we display, but we are also a local institution rooted in New York City and we will have to learn to balance these competing positions.
"It is our collective responsibility to ensure that our collective “offer” is available to the largest public possible.”
How do you contextualize the cultural partnerships between MoMA and The Armory Show? How do you understand this relationship’s responsibility in positioning a critical dialogue within a larger audience?
We live in an artistic ecosystem that depends on a robust relationship between collectors and curators, dealers and museums, the academy and scholarship and there are relatively few places where all of these dimensions are at play together. New York happens to be one of those places and it is our collective responsibility to ensure that our collective “offer” is available to the largest public possible.
During your 23 years with MoMA, having overseen countless exhibitions, what is the one exhibition you have not yet realized, but always dreamed of?
Among the exhibitions I would most love to see at MoMA, and I have said this before, would be one devoted to the great Venezuelan artist Gego.