JEFFREY BROWN: The Museum of Modern Art was ten years old in 1939, when it moved to its present location in midtown Manhattan.
Artworks were then carried a bit more casually than they are today. But for founding director Alfred Barr, there was nothing casual about the museum's mission.
Over the years, and through several expansions, he and others built it into what is regarded as the world's finest collection of modern painting, sculpture, photography, and design.
Now the collection has a brand- new look. MOMA, as the museum's called, has reopened after a three-year, $425 million renovation by architect Yoshio Taniguchi.
YOSHIO TANIGUCHI: I tried not to create a special object. I want to create an environment. Architecture is basically a container: You have to have something inside.
A museum has people and works of art. I just designed a cup to contain works of art and people.
JEFFREY BROWN: Taniguchi created a building of large white galleries, views out into the city, a revamped sculpture garden, and a 110-foot-high atrium.
Because of its holdings and its history, MOMA has had a unique power to shape and define the story of modern art.
The new design now gives it twice the exhibition space, and a chance to rethink itself on its 75th birthday. Glenn Lowry is MOMA's director.
GLENN LOWRY: We wanted a building that allowed us to, in a sense, become the laboratory that we were founded as-- a place of looking and learning, of thinking and engagement.
And we wanted a place that would allow us to tell our story differently.
JEFFREY BROWN: Everywhere you turn, a familiar icon of modern art-- Van Gogh's "Starry Night" and Cezanne's "Bather," Picasso's radical new perspective in "Demoiselle D'Avignon" from 1907, a whole room full of Matisses, Brancusi sculptures, Mondrian's abstract "Broadway Boogie Woogie" from 1942, and Jackson Pollock.
You can chart the story of modern art step by step, and MOMA famously did, walking the visitor through schools of art: Cubism, surrealism, abstract expressionism.
In fact, MOMA was sometimes criticized for locking into place a set progression of how things developed, one artistic movement leading directly to the next. Now, it's taking a new view.
GLENN LOWRY: In the past, our galleries had single entrances and single exits, hence creating this notion of chapters or beads on a chain, as some have referred to them.
The new galleries all have multiple entrances and multiple exists. There is an historical sweep to them, but you always have the ability to go off channel, to move in a different direction.
JEFFREY BROWN: Chief curator John Elderfield:
JOHN ELDERFIELD, Curator, MOMA: I think that it's actually truer to the complexity of the situation, which is really more like a debate, you know, one artist offering one view, some other artists at the same time offering a different view, some sort of consensus, or not a consensus developing, and so it goes on.
JEFFREY BROWN: So that makes an exciting story because it suggests that art could have gone one of many different ways.
JOHN ELDERFIELD: Indeed, and often did. What is modern art? It isn't one thing, it isn't one development, but it's a continuing debate. And the definition of modern art changes, you know, in time.
JEFFREY BROWN: Of course, what was once radical and challenging contemporary art is now firmly of the past; the 20th century seen now through 21st century eyes.
One response from the museum was to play up works from more recent decades. Large new galleries bring the story of art up to date, with pieces from the 1970s up to today.
MOMA's curators also saw an opportunity to let visitors see very familiar works in fresh ways.
JOHN ELDERFIELD: My job as a curator is, in part, to make unfamiliar things more familiar and understandable. But I think it's also to take extremely familiar things and make them seem strange again.
JEFFREY BROWN: Make them seem strange again?
JOHN ELDERFIELD: Strange again. You know, but some of these things were very strange works when they first appeared. You know, they were baffling to a lot of people, they were odd, they caused a great deal of controversy.
This is where you actually see the things which you've seen in slides and posters. And I think it's important for us to present them in a way where the unique presence of these things become evident, and do it in a way where also they are seen as part of a history.
And I think that it's a balancing act.
JEFFREY BROWN: Early reviews of the new MOMA have been mostly very positive. But there were some jibes aimed at the new price of admission: $20, a 67 percent hike.
Museum officials point out that children 16 and under and many college students will get in free, and they say the admission represents the new realities of life.
GLENN LOWRY: The cost of running a museum has skyrocketed since Sept. 11, 2001. Security has doubled and tripled; insurance has tripled, if not quadrupled.
We feel very strongly that if we can't balance our budget and act in a fiscally responsible way, we won't be in a position to bring in those adventuresome exhibitions that define this institution.
JEFFREY BROWN: It's too early to tell how the new ticket price will impact attendance. On opening day recently, admission was free, and close to 20,000 art lovers lined up to get their first look at the new version of the Museum of Modern Art.