New York City's Museum of Modern Art, a.k.a. MoMA, was closed from June until October 2019 for a major $450 million overhaul, both structurally and content-wise. Now expanded by 47,000 square feet (a 30-percent increase), MoMA boasts technological enhancements, including more than 200 digital audio guides you can listen to via free Wi-Fi, and an ever-changing temporary and permanent collection installations.
The re-opening, commemorating MoMA's 90th anniversary, was met with rave reviews by The NY Times and The New Yorker, and frequent visitors will immediately notice some of the most profound, coolest alterations—the enclosed bookstore, once located just off the main lobby in an enclosed, separate space, is now a sprawling and open 6,000-square-foot, sunken oasis of cool merchandise with both stairs and a cylindrical elevator for access—and a more integrated survey of its deep collection, from film and video to photography, painting, sculpture, and more. Here's your TripSavvy guide on how to MoMA.
What to See and Do at MoMA
Today, your visit to MoMA begins before you even step through the door. Whereas the museum's contents were once completely hidden behind walls, the 53rd Street exterior now offers glimpses into multiple galleries and space thanks to new massive windows that peek into the basement-level gift shop, lobby, staircases, and even galleries.
Once inside, be sure to connect to the MoMA's free Wi-Fi so you can access its digital gallery maps and an extensive selection of audio guides during your visit (including over two dozen recordings designed for kids), which will not only enhance the experience but give a sense of the new way in which work is ordered and presented through the approximately 166,000 square feet of gallery space.
Work from MoMA's permanent collection, which entails almost 200,000 items of which about 2,500 are on display at any given time (including the coveted "Starry Night" by Vincent Van Gogh), is presented with a more integrated approach, juxtaposing various forms of media and disciplines (which writer James Tarmy's Bloomberg review praised). For example, "you can now look at a Picasso and go around the corner and there’s a Post-It note as a design object," said Ramona Bannayan, Senior Deputy Director of Exhibitions and Collections, in an interview about the revamp. Filmmaking in its various iterations and technical evolutions is also now peppered throughout the permanent galleries and the history of modernism presented.
The permanent collection begins on the fifth floor, with galleries covering the 1880s to 1940s. This is where you'll find Van Gogh's iconic 1889 "Starry Night" (in Gallery 501: "19th-Century Innovators"), Frida Kahlo's 1940 "Self-Portrait With Cropped Hair" (Gallery 517: "Surrealist Objects"), Pablo Picasso's 1907 painting "Les Demoiselles d’Avignon" (Gallery 503: "Around 'Les Demoiselles d’Avignon'"), and Claude Monet's three-panel "Water Lillies," dated 1914-26 (Gallery 515).
The 1940s to 1970s are represented on the fourth floor, with highlights including work by Andy Warhol (both paintings and film), Henri Matisse, and Yayoi Kusama, plus the must-see Gallery 402: "In And Around Harlem," spotlighting the African-American neighborhood through the eyes of artists, including painter (and Harlem resident) Jacob Lawrence.
Skipping the third floor and atrium, which is dedicated to temporary exhibitions and newly commissioned installations to commemorate the 2019 reopening (including one by Yoko Ono), the permanent collection concludes on the second level, covering the 1970s-present and some of its major names like Jean-Michel Basquiat, photographers Catherine Opie, Rineke Dijkstra, and Wolfgang Tillmans, sculptor Chen Zhen, and Richard Serra.
Merchandise & Cinema
As much a gallery as merchandise supply, the basement-level's MoMA Store is jam packed with books—the 30-foot tall wall display alone is lined with more than 2,000 publications—an ever-changing, curated selection of small press and independent art and photography books and zines from around the world, posters, cards, clothing, and limited edition MoMA vinyl figures created by the likes of Takashi Murakami and Kaws. Be sure to afford at least 20 minutes for a proper browse. The second and sixth levels also feature smaller shops with collection and exhibition-centric items.
Besides its galleries, MoMA runs a robust cinema program (and co-presents Spring's annual New Directors New Films festival with Film At Lincoln Center) with daily screenings—2020 programming included a retrospective by Malaysian, Taiwan-based director Tsai Ming-Liang, and "It's All In Me: Black Heroines," a survey of work depicting Black females from 1907 to 2018, as well as elements of the collection integrated into the galleries. In fifth floor’s Gallery 502, keep an eye out for a three-minute clip from 1914’s Lime Kiln Club Field Day, the first feature film with an all African-American cast.
Hungry or thirsty? MoMA's two Michelin-starred, four-time James Beard Award-winning The Modern is its premier culinary destination with a main dining area overlooking the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden and a separate entrance (so museum opening hours aren't a concern). Executive chef Abram Bissell and pastry chef Jiho Kim serve up beautiful, contemporary lunch and dinner fare six days a week (and just lunch on Sundays in its Bar Room), with an inventive tasting menu available at the kitchen's coveted four-seat The Kitchen Table. Reservations are highly recommended, and can be made 28 days in advance. Bonus: The Modern is a no-tipping venue, so you needn't factor in anything additional when paying the bill.
The second floor's Cafe 2 is a first-come, first-serve venue with Italian-centric casual cuisine including fresh pasta, panini, soups, salads, cheese and meat boards, and full beverage menu, while the Espresso Bar provides coffee shop staples. At the sixth floor's Terrace Cafe you'll find small plates, shareable snacks, a selection of beer, wine and cocktails, and outdoor terrace seating when weather allows.
Hours & Admission
Unlike most museums that are closed on Tuesdays, MoMA is open seven days a week (except Thanksgiving and Christmas). Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except on Fridays and first Thursdays, which are extended until 9 p.m. Admission is $25 for adults, $14 for students, $18 for seniors and visitors with disabilities, and free for children and youth under 16. Members also get in free (annual individual membership costs $100), plus early access to select exhibitions.
You can enter the building and main lobby through either 53rd Street or 54th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, while a separate entrance for members and the film program is located on 53rd Street just south of the main entrance.
All tickets include complimentary admission to regularly programmed films and MoMA's sister venue, PS1, in Queens. Don't forget to also check out the MoMA Design Store just across 53rd Street.
Tips for Visiting
Tickets can be purchased online, which allows you to directly enter the galleries without queuing for tickets. Members have their own dedicated entrance, so if you're a member or member's guest, even better!
If you plan to buy tickets once arrived, bear in mind there might be a line when they first open: instead, aim for 11 a.m. or later to avoid a wait. Admission is complimentary on Fridays between 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., a program known as "UNIQLO Free Friday Nights," and as a result, this time tends to be the busiest of the week. If you prefer to avoid big crowds, weekday late mornings and early afternoons (non-holiday) are the best times to come by.
Checking backpacks and large bags is mandatory, so keep in mind there may be a wait for the cloakroom especially during wintertime (members have a dedicated, and more expedient cloakroom) and the final hour before closing.
Don't forget that your ticket (and memberships) also include admission to MoMA's outstanding, sprawling sister venue, PS1, in Long Island City, Queens, a converted school-turned-contemporary art exhibition that is easily accessible by the subway (Court Street stop). Bear in mind that while MoMA is open seven days a week, PS1 is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. PS1 is also home to the annual Art Book Fair, which sees dealers and creators from all across the country selling all manner of art tomes and related merchandise, from vintage and rare photography books to scrappy, quirky self-published zines.