« MoMA is writing one of the MANY histories of photography. Despite its unique and powerful legends and convictions, it can yet be challenged by other histories written elsewhere. » In a context of tight competition, Frenchman Quentin Bajac took up his post as Chief Curator of Photography at MoMA, New York Museum of Modern Art, in 2013.
The mission of former Director of Photography at Centre Pompidou in Paris is highly stimulating, at a time when New-York photography encounters huge changes that lead Mr. Bajac to handle difficult tasks and make more pertinent and audacious choices. Manhattan galleries nowadays tend to offer rich collections to visitors. All have benefited from increased budgets: MoMA itself is undergoing extension work, as a future tower by Jean Nouvel will bring 30 % of extra room to the museum ;
Whitney Museum, being renovated at Meatpacking, is leaving Madison Avenue where MET will develop its modern and contemporary art section ; Guggenheim ; New Museum and International Centre of Photography. Not to forget very influentious galleries and arty places that look like museums.
When he appointed a Frenchman to be Chief Curator of Photography, Glenn Lowry, Director at MoMA, chose to open up to other cultures in a museum marked by a predominant American identity. Today, 4 Chief Curators out of 7 are of European nationality. Quentin Bajac draws heavily on these dynamics to express his priorities: « The collection is at the heart of the Museum. I intend to go on expanding it: we shall give importance to the 20th and 21st centuries, and we will work on finding the right balance between American and non-American artists; we will open up to Europe, Latin America, and Africa. A very active group of people are currently exploring Eastern Europe art. We also put a lot into artists from Asia. I do hope I can include French artists such as Luc Delahaye. »
Exhibitions illustrate this superbly: « They explore new geographies, and bring interesting and enriching elements of a cross-fertilization between cultures and continents. New opportunities are given to Women Artists as well. We turn towards chronoligical and multi-disciplinary exhibitions » Quentin Bajac will present a new dynamic formula for New Photography, an event which is celebrating its 30th anniversary at MoMA in November : it will have a more international touch and will show photography under all its different aspects.
Quentin Bajac is aiming at intensifying the Museum publications. « Photography has always been compatible with publications. Sometimes I even tend to think that art books are more appropiate than art exhibitions. » He also shows interest in digital: «One of my main objectives is to publish the whole collection on line. »
Quentin Bajac finally recommends the work of 3 artists: « 3 women born in the 1960s, who have a very different approach to photography but have all taken roots in traditional documentary photography, which they revive through a conceptual approach: Katy Grannan, An-My Lê and Collier Schorr. » No doubt our Frenchman is writing very important pages of MoMA history.
New Photography 2015 « Ocean of Images »
From 7 November 2015 to 20 March 2016.
Museum of Modern Art of New York
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Museum of Modern Art of New York
Pluris wishes to thank les Amis du MNAM for their precious help in realising this article.
Crédits photo : Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Peter Ross, LaToya Ruby Frazier, An-My Lê