Walking around the Museum of Modern Art on Saturday afternoon, you could be forgiven for not realizing that it was the end of one era and the dawn of another. In the galleries tourists and locals mingled with artists and art buffs, just like usual.
“This one’s good,” one visitor offered, pointing to Piet Mondrian’s “Trafalgar Square.” A modest assessment.
“I bet this gets restored within 10 years,” another said with a knowing nod, turning to his date after leaning in nose to nose with Mondrian’s “Broadway Boogie-Woogie.”
But outside, curled up in the sun on West 53rd Street, orange construction lifts lay in wait, a reminder of the $450 million overhaul that would close MoMA temporarily until Oct. 21. The museum plans to reopen with both its physical spaces and the story they tell of modernism greatly expanded.
Saturday was MoMA’s last official day open to the public. According to the museum, about 7,000 visitors traipsed through, higher than MoMA’s projection. We talked to seven (plus one security supervisor) about the artwork that captivated them the most.
The New Jerseyans
Fernando Rodriguez, 67
Diane Rodriguez, 66
From: Linden, N.J.
Fernando, I overheard you say “I’ve always loved this one …” about Henri Matisse’s “View of Notre Dame Paris.” Why?
FERNANDO It draws me in. Looking at this room of Matisses, this is one of the more austere ones. Very austere. At the same time, his color is just so sensuous. And he uses the lines to give you space and to locate things in space. This is one of those kinds of paintings I just sit in front of for half an hour or so, when I can.
DIANE It does nothing for me.
FERNANDO We have diametrically opposed appreciations of art. Totally opposite. In fact, I’ll sit in front of a Pollock for 20 minutes and she just walks away.
DIANE Oh, yeah. Pollock … no.
FERNANDO Part of the fun of the two of us going together to museums is our different opinions and different views of things. It makes it very pleasurable.
What’s your relationship?
DIANE We’re married!
FERNANDO For 42 years this coming Tuesday. We come here several times a year, at least. We had to come today because it’s the last day before they close down, just to visit old friends and visit old spaces.
Diane, you prefer Claude Monet’s “Agapanthus?”
DIANE I like the way he blends the colors. And I just think the flowers are beautiful.
Did you purposely choose to wear a dress that matches this painting?
DIANE No, I didn’t.
The Security Supervisor
Chet Gold, 42
From: the Bronx
How long have you worked at MoMA?
Six years. I was a security officer first. Now I’m a supervisor.
Are you looking at the art while you work?
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s the bonus. I’m a painter and a rapper. I’m always studying. I’m looking at it as a residency. Working here has given me an interest in people that work with lines. So I really like [Frank] Stella’s stuff. I like my guy, Sol LeWitt. I’m using this place to see what people connect to, and why.
What are you most happy to be assigned to?
My favorite room is the “Water Lilies.” It’s the calmest. I kind of have to be calm, dealing with all this energy and all these people. People get forced to kind of slow down. The water lilies hug you. I never saw energy not change in that room.
What does the renovation mean for you?
I’m kind of excited. We’ll be installing, de-installing artwork. We’re the front lines, even in that process. When people are coming in, we have to vet who’s who.
Have you noticed any change in the way museumgoers behave over the six years that you’ve worked here?
It’s unfortunate, but everything is quicker. It feels good when certain shows have people in there for an hour or two. You could see the difference in the power of the art. Like the Charles White show. People were slow motion in there.
The Next Generation
Vanessa Poe, 21
Anna Maydanik, 20
From: Washington, D.C.
Why are you here, at Miró’s “Mural Painting?”
VANESSA It reminds us of “The Secret Life of Pets.” We just saw that movie.
ANNA I just like the background. I think there’s a discrepancy — like, the background is considered serious, kind of intentional color mixing. And there’s a straightness to it. But the doodles contradict it.
You also are drawn to works from Miró’s “Black and Red Series.”
VANESSA These show how he mirrored the image and was able to add depth to the scene. It’s the same image over and over again but he’s revealing certain shadows in some cases and holding back in others. If you were to watch them, you could watch them like a flipbook or something.
From: Mérida, Mexico
What brings you to MoMA?
I’m from Mexico, and I work through art in transforming emotions and healing in postwar communities, indigenous communities. So I’m looking for inspiration and new techniques that can be used with adolescents and children back home.
Can you walk me through what you’re seeing in Picasso’s “Girl before a Mirror?”
I see especially the colors and the reflection of the images. It’s not specifically a direct reflection. We are in constant change. We are receiving different inputs from our culture, from our context, from our interaction with other people. And the important thing is the way that we perceive of ourselves.
From: Juneau, Alaska
I noticed you snapped a cellphone photo of Josh Kline’s “Skittles,” with bottles of drinks that contain unorthodox ingredients, including a cellphone case.
I just thought it was a good reflection of where we are with the society right now. We bottle everything up and we sell it. I saw the humor in it … And I’m actually also looking at refrigerators. My refrigerator died right before Thanksgiving, and I haven’t replaced it. I’m trying to convince my partner to go in on a clear one. Keeping food visual makes you eat it, so you don’t waste it.
The Art Professional
From: Seoul, South Korea; assistant manager, international relations and special events at the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art.
What do you love about this spot on a pedestrian bridge overlooking the Marron Atrium?
The open-airiness. And how the architect specifically decided to place a window that looks onto the stairwell there, which in itself creates a very striking visual effect. This whole view here looks like a painting. The first time I saw this atrium was back in 2006, when I graduated from the University of Virginia, where I studied art history. When I came that first time around, I didn’t notice the artwork as much. I just noticed the space.
How do you feel now?
It’s O.K. for me to not know too much about the specifics of an exhibition, but to just feel comfortable coming here — even as a tourist. Over here on this bypass, I can just observe. I can people-watch, but I can also see how the art integrates with the architecture, and feel the light come in.