The museum’s greatest hits

Times Staff Writer

Never mind the $20 admission fee. Art lovers by the thousands -- maybe even the millions -- are dying to see the latest incarnation of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In process for seven years, the massive renovation and expansion designed by Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi will be unveiled Nov. 20.

Every MoMA watcher wants to see what’s new: Taniguchi’s transformation of the building in Midtown Manhattan and the curators’ fresh installation of the collection, telling the story of Modern art in greater length and breadth with the help of increased gallery space and recent acquisitions.

But for longtime MoMA fans, much of the excitement concerns what’s old. The 75-year-old museum is widely reputed to have the world’s best collection of Modern art, and it’s loaded with landmarks of art history and popular favorites. Some of these works have done star turns at MoMA’s facility in Queens while the Manhattan construction project was underway; others have been in storage. All will reappear in new contexts.

Visitors who seek out old friends in the galleries -- Paul Cezanne’s painting “The Bather,” say, or Pablo Picasso’s provocative early masterpiece “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” -- will rediscover pillars of a collection founded by a few adventurous philanthropists. Their vision evolved into a holding of more than 100,000 works in six departments: architecture and design, drawings, film and media, painting and sculpture, photography, prints and drawings.


As the museum moves into a new phase of its life, the most familiar pieces in the collection are likely to be seen anew. Even the most-seasoned viewers may notice something a little different about their favorites and wonder how and why they ended up at MoMA. Just like the recent acquisitions, the famous fixtures have stories to tell about the artists who made them, the dealers who promoted them, the collectors who bought them and the routes they took to the museum on West 53rd Street.