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Welcome to Louis Traveling where I write about my travels in Europe, Asia and the USA.

You've changed: New York City's Museum of Modern Art

You've changed: New York City's Museum of Modern Art

“Where are you?” my friend texted me from the third floor. 

“By the Pollock, I’ll meet you downstairs.” I pushed my way through throngs of gawking tourists, dodging flabby outstretched arms and big backpacks.  

“I can’t believe this place,” my friend said to me.  “I was just appreciating this painting and some jerk off came up waving his finger in my face asking me to move so he could take a picture.” 

I shrugged at a loss for words.    

“The MoMA sucks.” 

New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has always felt like one of my oldest friends in New York City.  No matter what I am doing I always like to take time out to decompress among the Picassos and the Matisses, Pollocks and Warhols.  While the central pieces like Van Gogh’s Starry Night draw the crowds, it is the ever-changing peripheral collection that has always kept me coming back.  At eight dollars entrance fee for adults (and free entry for students) I always knew I was going to have a quality experience at the MoMA.  

When I queued last weekend on a short visit to New York I was shocked to see just how many people were crowded into the foyer of the relatively small museum.  The front desk was as busy as Wall Street with tills popping open as money aggressively changed hands.  The entrance fee had gone up to 25 dollars.  Well, I guess.  Reluctant to shovel out what one could live on for an entire week in Vietnam, I hesitantly handed the curator my money as I gambled on my own past satisfactions and the museum’s reputation for quality and tact.  

Only few moments later I realized that I lost the bet.  The once shiny floors were now ashen and marred by the thousands of dirty feet that herd across them daily.  The white walls appeared as yellow as a stack of decade-old newspapers. The galleries were a zoo packed tight with pushy tourists from all corners of the globe shoving and shouting their way through the once quiet halls.  The MoMA I had known was no more.

As I wandered through the labyrinth of bodies I couldn't help but wonder what the artists would have thought of this circus.  Van Gogh would have lost it, I'm sure, while Warhol would have loved the attention.  If it wasn’t for the art hanging on the walls one would have thought they were on a Subway platform.  Ushers were waiting at every doorway to direct the masses in and out of the galleries, hardly giving anyone enough time to get a full look at (let alone contemplate) the pieces.  In and out.  It all felt eerily mass produced.

“I could have done this,” a girl said to her friend as she snapped a selfie in front of Pollock’s One: Number 31, pursing her lips together.  I could feel myself getting hot.  I wanted to take her phone and smash it on the floor.  I wanted to scream at everyone that was having their own conversation, who was on the phone, who was pushing others out of the way so they could take photos.  Art museums are places for solitary thought and reflection — those unable to exist in quiet contemplation need not bother.  That was enough, I had to leave. 

“The MoMA sucks” are harsh words to use with an old friend, but I can say they were merited.  The MoMA has become a business more concerned with turning a profit than providing a quality service.  With the recent jump in entrance fees I was expecting there to be a significant trade off in quality.  Instead what I experienced was nothing new, nothing nice, nothing worth returning for.  While the MoMA will always be special place in my memory, I don’t anticipate going back until major changes are implemented in cleanliness and crowd control.  All that money should be going somewhere, after all.   

Five quiet days in Con Dao

Five quiet days in Con Dao

'Art for a better community' in Vietnam's Tam Thanh mural village

'Art for a better community' in Vietnam's Tam Thanh mural village