Reimagined, remixed, reinvigorated

How MoMA’s reopening redefined the rules of modern art

“Most big institutions don’t change. They maybe turn a quarter of a degree. MoMA upended everything. They exploded the idea of who gets to be on the walls and who gets to tell the story.”

— Christine Murray,
US Creative Director, Antenna


Client Profile

The Museum of Modern Art – better known as MoMA – barely needs introduction. Founded in New York in 1929, it is arguably the world’s most well-known and influential modern art museum. It houses an enormous collection of international works, from drawings, paintings, sculptures to photography, film, design, and well beyond.

Challenge

At such an institution, every move, every change is closely scrutinized. So, when MoMA announced it was to close for a major $450 million renovation which would see the addition of 47,000 square feet of gallery space, the pressure was on to do it right.

This update was not just about displaying more of their incredible collection. At a time when questions are being asked about how to acquire, repatriate, curate and display art, this expansion was about ensuring MoMA retained its place as a leading voice in modern and contemporary art. To meet the needs and expectations of today’s visitors, it was about creating experiences, starting conversations, including new voices and fresh perspectives and democratizing the story of modern art.

“The real value of this expansion is not more space, but space that allows us to rethink the experience of art in the Museum.”

Glenn D. Lowry,
The David Rockefeller Director

Having worked together since 2013, MoMA approached Antenna to be one of its trusted partners in this incredible reinvention. The expansion was seen as a great moment to take stock and think about the visitor experience in this vast new space. Our challenge was two-fold.

  1. We were to move beyond a scholarly approach and focus on the artist’s voice and other fresh, informed perspectives. Content needed to be welcoming, inclusive, enlightening and lead with storytelling, not facts.
  2. There is no obvious start and stop point to a journey through MoMA, so the team wanted to give visitors the option of a diversity of paths and free choice. We were tasked with moving beyond audio stops related to individual pieces of art to create linked, themed journeys that could open up a dialogue between artworks in different galleries, and different floors. A major goal was to help visitors find their way through the expanded building and make sense of their time in the museum in ways that including voices and perspectives that would resonate today.


Solution

“The collaboration [with Antenna] has been seamless. We have been pushed in ways that even as educators we were a little afraid to push ourselves. It allowed us to flex our muscles in a very different way.”

Jenna Madison, Assistant Director,
Interpretation, Research and Digital Learning, MoMA

We ran two full days of workshops and StoryJams with the MoMA’s curators, educators, content producers, and other stakeholders to identify thought-provoking, relevant themes and stories that run through the collection. We developed a whole raft of options for cohesive, story-led themed walks around the museum, including:

  • Radical Acts: Artists and activists from around the globe explore art’s potential for radical impact and change.
    Play the audio for the Catherine Opie piece, featuring a non-binary artist
and a self-described “baby dyke” in conversation
  • Made in New York: Get to know art and artists inspired by New York City. From music to traffic to neighborhoods and people, there are an endless number of perspectives of this iconic city.
  • Materials and Process: Explore artists’ innovative materials and processes. What are the unique ways in which art can be made? Artists, collaborators and family members reveal what it takes.

In a departure from traditional narrated audio stops by curators, insights come directly from the artists, their relatives and collaborators, or conversations with people with a unique point of view. Inventive sound design and evocative music add emotion and intrigue to meet the expectations of the podcast generation.

Play the audio from the kid’s playlist to hear a gardener at Giverny describe the sights and sounds of Monet’s Water Lilies Over the course of the project, we carried out over 50 interviews, including with 15 leading contemporary artists – many of whom lent their voices to MoMA audio for the first time To really understand their perspective and hear their voice, the artists were interviewed in eight different countries and in their native language wherever possible.

Outcome
On reopening, the eyes of the art world were firmly on MoMA. But, with plans to evaluate in the New Year, the reinvention has been largely positive so far.

The New York Times says the experience is now, “more demanding…also more fun”, while the New York Post praises how the museum’s collection is displayed not as a single, strict narrative but “a jigsaw of thematic rooms — an art buffet, rather than a formal banquet”.

Only a few weeks in, positive visitor feedback on sites like TripAdvisor is pouring in, explicitly highlighting – without prompt – the experience of the audio tour:

  • “5 hours is about double my usual gallery attention span but it was hard to pull away even then. I haven’t been to MoMA in a while but we so enjoyed the audio guides and new exhibits as well as more familiar works.”
  • “[T]he audio guide was informative and very well put together. I would definitely advise all visitors to take advantage of this.”
  • “[W]e so enjoyed the audio guides.”
  • “Be sure to get the audio tour.”
  • And our partners at MoMA are excited not only by what we have achieved together, but by what is to come:

“This should have been a baby step but we have really moved the needle and in a way that means we can keep pushing the boundaries with what we’re doing.”

Jenna Madison, Assistant Director,
Interpretation, Research and Digital Learning, MoMA

Contact us to find out more about this or any of our projects

Contact Us
Museum of Modern Art
Country: USA
City: New York
Institution Type: Art
Year Founded: 1929
Content Type:

Partner with Antenna

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About Us

We are innovative storymakers and creative technologists devoted to visitor-first experiences.

We make audio tours, mobile apps, multimedia guides, podcasts, interactives, and superior story-driven content for the museum and cultural sector.

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