The new architecture critic of The New York Times, Nicolai Ouroussoff, who replaces the erstwhile and widely reviled (but not by me) Herbert Muschamp, looks to be a real winner. If not quite in the same class as the great Ada Louise Huxtable, he nevertheless is a critic both well-informed and eloquent as his detailed descriptions of architect Yoshio Taniguchi's new design of the MoMA attest. And what overall does Mr. Ouroussoff think of the new building?
[T]he expanded museum is a serene composition that weaves art, architecture and the city into a transcendent aesthetic experience. Its crisp surfaces and well-proportioned forms clean up the mess that the building had become over the course of three expansions.
And what does Mr. Ouroussoff think the new MoMA's display organization has to say for itself?
[T]he layout [of the exhibitions] also suggests how the new Modern hews in many ways to the vision of the old Met. The main painting and sculpture galleries are stacked in reverse chronological order, with the bulk of the contemporary works on the second level; drawings, architecture and design on the third; works from 1945 to 1970 on the fourth; and 1880 to 1945 on the fifth. (Temporary exhibition spaces are at the very top.)
The vertical hierarchy evokes a Darwinian climb toward the canonical works of early Modernism. For an aspiring young artist craving acceptance, it may also bring to mind the rings of Dante's Inferno. It reinforces the notion - in a way not sensed at the Met today - that museums are as much about the stamp of legitimacy as about aesthetic pleasure.
This may irritate people who believe that a 21st-century museum should take a more populist approach. It runs counter to the idea that art, in a democracy, is a messy, open process. And it exposes the design's overwhelming assertion of control, beautiful yet chilling. But that is what powerful art institutions do: they set standards, they make evaluations. You could argue that Mr. Taniguchi is stripping away the egalitarian pose and exposing the museum for what it is.
And about time, too.