NEW YORK (AP) – A six-story atrium forms the spectacular core of the newly designed Museum of Modern Art, drawing light into the sleek structure and providing breathtaking views from the museum’s balconies and sky bridges.

On three sides of the 110-foot-high opening, galleries unfold in airy clusters linked by wide doorways. Visitors may choose their own routes through the world’s premier collection of 20th-century modern art. Unlike the cramped old MoMA, there’s space galore.

The white walls holding van Goghs, Picassos, Klees and Warhols are recessed at the bases with dark borders to create the illusion of floating above the varnished, hardwood floors. This design initiative underlines a sense of lightness and buoyancy at the new MoMA, which opens today after a 2 ½-year, $425 million reconstruction at nearly double its former size.

For the first time, this Xanadu of modernity seems integrated into its high-rise neighborhood just off Fifth Avenue. That’s where its first permanent home opened in 1939, a boxy, modernistic building by Philip Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone, with additions in 1951, 1964 and 1984.

The new, rebuilt MoMA by Japanese architect Yushio Taniguchi hews to principles of the international school of architecture and retains elements of the original building, such as the facade and the curved canopy at the entrance of the museum’s theaters and restaurant.

But in a design that gutted the old galleries and expanded display space to 125,000 square feet from 85,000 square feet, Taniguchi’s masterstrokes, such as the new atrium, manage to bolster functionality and add visual drama without overwhelming the art objects shown in adjacent galleries.

Taniguchi said that he integrated the renovation into the midtown location rather than attempting a radically distinctive design. He said he put special emphasis on restoring the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden to its original form.

The new glass curtain walls bring cityscapes into the museum. The backdrop for the rebuilt sculpture garden is the Manhattan skyline. Even the 52-story Museum Tower apartment building from the 1984 expansion is integrated into the complex with an exposed wall in the garden.

Soaring vertical planes, such as a wood and metal staircase linking the fourth and fifth floor galleries in one wall of the atrium, and the slender, load-bearing colonnades, balance the horizontal lines of the upper floors and the 12,400-square-foot ground-floor lobby, which cuts across a city block between 53rd and 54th streets.

The project encompasses another 500,000 square feet of expansion, including MoMA offices and research and educational areas – space made available when MoMA purchased a hotel and townhouses on adjacent lots in the late 1990s.

“Since its founding 75 years ago, The Museum of Modern Art’s conception of itself has been one of continuous evolution,” museum director Glenn D. Lowry said in a statement, explaining the ambitious expansion to accommodate the growing collection.

MoMA’s hiked admission prices – $20 for adults, $16 for seniors and $12 for students – have raised some outcries. But opening day is free, as are Fridays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m, courtesy of corporate donations.

The radical redesign allows MoMA to present its specialties in the spacious galleries on six levels, in a kind of reverse order of chronology.

The lower level, below the lobby, comprises two theaters to present the film and media program. From the lobby, a grand stairway leads to MoMA’s first-ever galleries devoted to contemporary art. This second level features block-wide, 22-foot-high ceilings and column-free space.

The third floor presents architecture and design, drawings and photography. Exhibits range from a crimson Cisitalia sports car to Soviet-era posters and furniture by Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. Visitors also pass a green Bell helicopter suspended from the ceiling.

Galleries on the fourth and fifth floors show paintings and sculpture from postimpressionism to World War II to the postwar period to 1970. Visitors revel in works by van Gogh, Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse as well as more recent iconoclasts such as Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns, Donald Judd and Andy Warhol.

Sixth-floor galleries the size of several basketball courts house temporary exhibitions – currently James Rosenquist’s huge anti-war mural, “F-111.”


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