Current museum expansions are hung up on the concept of size. Instead, could we rethink the “grow or die” museum mentality of the 1990s and 2000

Curious about the extent of contemporary museums’ commitment to bigger spaces for art display,1 I took a look at recent expansions — both completed or in planning stages. When the second phase of the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) re-development is complete next fall, its gallery space will have grown by 30%. And this is modest in comparison with the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, which will increase its public display space by 50%; the Whitney Museum of American Art, which grew by 100% in moving to Gansevoort Street; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art whose latest project resulted in 300% more gallery space. Clearly expansion is more than a costly trend. It is something institutions are focusing on, and feel they need.

  • 1. LACMA’s proposed Zumthor building will invariably have its physical challenges (all buildings do), and whether it most resembles an Italian highway rest stop or an airport terminal, I’ll leave to the design critics. My point is that the loss of gallery space shouldn’t be the focus. Counting floor tiles tells us little without context. We should be looking to how the museum will use this new space, display art, and how it will engage its audiences.