Glenn Lowry, the longest-serving director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, is one of the most powerful men in the art world today. He speaks to THE WEEK about the importance of a museum in today’s world, global trends in art and the ongoing expansion of MoMA.
MoMA is one of the largest modern art museums in the world. What do you want people to take away from a museum visit? What can we learn from art?
Art changes people’s perspectives and museums can provide a platform for that. At a museum people can discover something they are interested in or did not know about and that, in turn, can lead them to think different. You have a lot of museums in India but there is plenty of room for more. It is interesting that a group of private collectors like Kiran Nadar have built museums and are showing their collections to a national audience. But India also needs national museums that operate at a bigger level than they currently do. You need more robust projects on a regular basis, not just in Mumbai and Delhi but also in other cities like Kochi, Kolkata and Srinagar.
Tell us about the renovation and expansion of the museum that you are undertaking?
We are in the midst of a major expansion that will open to the public on October 21. The project is about increasing space so we can show more of our collection in new and different ways. We will create new kinds of space that did not exist before at the museum, particularly space for performance and contemporary projects. We want to turn public spaces into more accommodating and welcoming ones to make a visit to the museum engaging and enjoyable for the public. From 1,500 works of art, we will be exhibiting 2,500 works, so it is a big jump. We will also show artists from different geographies in a richer and more regular context.
You are also mixing different media at the renovated galleries— like photography, sculpture and painting.
It is a very complicated and enjoyable task. It is not unlike orchestrating music. You need many parts to work together. There are moments when you only want to hear notes of a sitar and also moments when you want sitar and tabla and everything else to come into play. So you have to experiment and learn how to do something new and different. We have been experimenting for four or five years. But now we are going to try it on a very large scale. And I hope that the sound will work well together for our audiences.
What are some of the global trends in art currently?
There is an increased interest in performance. More collectives and groups are working together in a collaborative way. There is also a heightened interest in political activism and ecology—artists are acutely aware of the damage being done to the world.