NEW YORK — The Museum of Modern Art announced Thursday that it has agreed to serve as the "principal cultural partner" in a project by Japan's leading real estate developer, billionaire Minoru Mori, to create an art museum atop a 54-story office tower in Tokyo.
Under the 10-year agreement, America's best-known modern art museum will lend its expertise to help Mori design and run his privately funded Mori Art Center "to the highest international standards" at a time when a lagging economy has caused other museums to close around Japan.
While MOMA's director, Glenn D. Lowry, hailed the arrangement as marking "an important new era in MOMA's history," he said the New York museum will not have an ownership or naming interest in Mori's facility--thus stopping well short of the recent expansionist thrust of the cross-town Guggenheim Museum, which has opened high-profile branches in Bilbao, Spain, and elsewhere around the world.
Whereas the Guggenheim has viewed globalization as a way to increase its profile, share the costs of special exhibits and display works from its collection otherwise in storage, Lowry said MOMA's role was as a well-paid "artistic advisor" to the Japanese museum, one that did not even commit it to shipping over any of its renowned collection for "long-term loan."
"Will we be lending outstanding works of art? Possibly," said Lowry, whose museum houses such treasures as Van Gogh's "The Starry Night," Cezanne's "The Bather" and Henri Rousseau's "The Dream." "But this is not a 'branding' event. This is not the 'Bilbao Phenomenon.' This is a local initiative."
While Lowry was intent on distinguishing MOMA's consulting role from the Guggenheim's unabashed expansion, he did tout the fact that the Japanese facility will open just a year before MOMA's new enlarged museum is unveiled here, combining to "enhance and expand our capabilities for exhibitions and programming." A year ago, MOMA expanded in a different direction, merging with the warehouse-sized P.S. 1 Contemporary Arts Center in Queens.
Neither Lowry nor Mori would say exactly what MOMA is being paid for its help, but the deal is sure to be lucrative for the New York museum, which currently is in the midst of a $650-million fund-raising drive.
MOMA's participation is expected to lend cachet to Mori's expressed desire to use the museum to "help revitalize the cultural scene in Japan." The soft-spoken developer, one of the richest men in the world, said Thursday that he has also recruited advisors from the Royal Academy of Arts in London and the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris. He is resisting pressure to automatically hire a Japanese person to head the museum, instead launching "a worldwide search for a director . . . regardless of nationality."
The museum--slated for opening in early 2003--will take up the the top five floors of an office tower that will anchor Mori's ambitious $2.5-billion redevelopment project for Roppongi, a well-located but slightly bedraggled section of midtown Tokyo that is best known as a night-life spot for foreigners.
Mori, who has long been intrigued by the utopian planned cities of the pioneering 20th century architect Le Corbusier, has been planning the Roppongi project for more than a decade. A series of renowned architects has been recruited to work on different portions of the 27-acre project, including the Los Angeles area's mega-mall expert, Jon Jerde, designer of Universal City's CityWalk, the Westside Pavilion and Glendale Galleria.
New York Architects Prominent in Project
Signed up to create the museum itself is New York architect Richard Gluckman. He will work with the designers of the office tower, Pedersen Fox Assoc., a New York-based firm recently honored for its design of the World Bank headquarters in Washington. Gluckman's firm has gained a niche as a designer of modern art showcases, including the converted warehouses of the Dia Center in Manhattan's Chelsea district, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the Georgia O'Keefe Museum in Santa Fe and the Mueso Picasso Malaga in Spain.
"Our mandate was to design a world-class museum on top of a world-class building . . . a building within a building," Gluckman said of the plans, which are still at an early stage. "The tough issue is the identity of the museum--we don't want it to become a museum in an office building."
Part of the answer, Gluckman said, is to create a distinct "iconic structure at the [street-level] entrance," then--when visitors take elevators 50 floors up--take advantage of the setting by using natural top lighting, having "a panoramic observation gallery" and completing the 65,000 square feet of exhibition space by designing two unique telescoping areas that offer a "different experience."
Made of "a matrix of steel and glass," these galleries will be like "translucent glazed boxes that extend into the facade of the building," Gluckman said.