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[BKARTS] WOID #XV-5. Mister Morgan, Sir



WOID #XV-5. Mister Morgan, Sir

The Morgan Library and Museum, New York
http://www.themorgan.org

They really call him that at the new, rebuilt and recently reopened 
Morgan Library: "Mr. Morgan's Library" it says on the wall next to one 
room, and "Mr. Morgan's Study" next to another. There's a couple 
of "Morgan Stanley" galleries as well, but Stanley doesn't get 
called "Mister." The New York Times calls this a "taut architectural 
composition bursting with civic hope," but I don't quite get the civic 
hope part, unless they're planning to use the atrium for voting 
machines come November. Meanwhile The staff seems pretty happy to be 
back at work, hanging like Jimmy Crack-corn.
 
You enter through a pared-down façade, all glass and metal of 
course, the portal overwhelmed by a huge pedimental slab of steel, a 
modernist Mycenae's Lion's Gate. The architect (Mr. Renzo Piano) has 
emptied out the center of the several joined townhouses that made up 
the original Morgan Library and inserted a vast, blank space on which 
the actual gallery spaces are made to cling like dark barnacles to the 
white hull of Mr. Morgan's yacht. The new spaces are in New Museum 
style, Frank Gehry with sharp corners, and the usual snoring (excuse 
me: soaring) atrium. All very spacious and not at all mingy, a Lincoln 
Center built without sparing expense, or maybe Lincoln Center before 
the seams start to show.

And, like Lincoln Center, it's not about seeing, it's about being 
seen.You can be seen having lunch through the glass passageway to the 
gift-shop; you can be seen from the cantilevered second-floor landing, 
or you can see the others seeing down below. And since the museum 
doesn't take up a whole block you can see or be seen through the huge
curtain of glass at the back of the atrium, by the folks in their back 
yards in the remaining residential buildings. Something tells me this 
odd, domestic view will some day be the best thing about the whole 
structure.
 
But if you've come to see instead, like, you know, artworks, you can do 
that, and better than you used to at the old Morgan, in a series of six 
galleries, which is a little bit more gallery space than there used to 
be, though I get a feeling the curators don't yet have the hang of it - 
so to speak. There's a tiny box of a gallery holding the gold: the 
Stavelot Triptych, the covers of the Lindau Gospels and a collection of 
Migration Art I'd never seen before, mostly jewelry and not that 
interesting. The old Main Gallery has been turned into a display area 
for medieval books and bindings and the books are better presented than 
they used to: laid not quite flat, but open enough in glass cases. A 
number are shown unbound: the Saint Louis Old Testament miniatures, of 
which a few sheets are laid out, same for the hunting book of Gaston 
Phebus. And the Winchester Leaf is displayed in a case with both sides 
visible, so there's more to see, better displayed than I remember. The 
lighting is superb: muted but not too dim. One of the Morgan's ninth-
century Coptic bindings is there - or rather a cover, since in 1912 
some idiot restorer had the bright idea of taking the 
books apart and trowing away the sewing. Across the hall there's an 
area of equal size devoted to the drawing collection, but the drawings 
are cramped in there; meanwhile, the old Library's left almost empty 
except for a fine Roman bronze of a running Eros. 

Over the past decade there's been a sharpening feud between museum 
curators and museum directors; between those who believe you go to a 
museum to interact with objects and those who believe you go to gaze 
and shop and place yourself in the vicinity of objects. Once again, in 
the new Morgan, the directors win, along with the trustees-who-lunch, 
and the Education Department. At least from the curators' point of view 
it's not a loss - more like a draw.

 - Paul Werner
http://museuminc.net

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