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Word Count: 750
For more than two years the Museum of Modern Art has been exiled to a reconditioned staple factory in Queens as a sleek new MOMA budgeted at a gulp-inducing 858 million rose conspicuously in Midtown Manhattan Meanwhile out of sight in a shabby windowless conference room in Queens the curators of the painting and sculpture department have been playing with a scale model of the new galleries debating how to retell the story of art in the 20th century Most art museums sort and display their objects as trophies but MOMA is a church Its masterpieces beyond their individual merits serve a higher purpose to spread the gospel of modern art The new selection and arrangement of the permanent collection will be scrutinized as closely as Scripture In MOMAs early days things were looser Alfred H Barr Jr who became the founding director in 1929 spoke of the museum as a laboratory His acquisitions were so wide-ranging that they got him into trouble with the members of his board who at one time or another found his taste too advanced a Rothko abstraction too retrograde a Hirshfield primitive portrait or just plain weird an Oppenheim fur teacup But Barr had another side he was a teacher as well as a hunter-gatherer He famously drew flow charts that mapped the evolution of modern art from the Post-Impressionists -- C van Gogh and Gauguin -- on through Picasso and Matisse and forward into pure abstraction Barr was constantly revising his charts adding new names and repositioning others After he retired however his guidelines ossified into a canon The white galleries of MOMA laid out a story in which modern art history advanced relentlessly like a train on a track Defined for so long as the arbiter and guardian of progressive art MOMA reopens on Nov 20 -- its 75th birthday -- at a time when even its own curators no longer believe that art progresses like science
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