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At the New MoMA, a Fresh Palette of Paint Colors Challenges the White Cube

Installation view of "Surrealist Objects," in Gallery 517, at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo by Jonathan Muzikar. © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Installation view of "Surrealist Objects," in Gallery 517, at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo by Jonathan Muzikar. © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Farrow & Ball's  Sulking Room Pink.

Farrow & Ball's Sulking Room Pink.

At the newly expanded Museum of Modern Art, the walls of gallery 517 are painted in Sulking Room Pink. A product of the luxe British paint and wallpaper purveyors Farrow & Ball, the color looks just as it sounds: a deliciously moody, mauve-y pink that’s deep and velvety. It’s a dusty rose I’d imagine in one of Marie Antoinette’s lavish private salons at Versailles, not necessarily at MoMA. Yet, these pink walls only intensify the priceless works of the “Surrealist Objects” gallery: self-portraits, ’s fur-lined teacup, mystifying canvases by and , not to mention ’s melting clocks. Sulking Room Pink may be the perfect sort of neutral to suit the enigmatic genius of .
The color is part of a new paint palette featured in MoMA’s freshly renovated galleries. Museum curators and exhibition designers partnered with Farrow & Ball to select colors that would complement the artworks and enhance the ambiance. And while experience tells us that the white cube gallery, with its pristine, whiter-than-white walls is the best environment for showing modern and contemporary art, various new galleries at MoMA prove different.
Installation view of “19th Century Innovators ,” in Gallery 501, at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo by Jonathan Muzikar. © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art.

Installation view of “19th Century Innovators ,” in Gallery 501, at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo by Jonathan Muzikar. © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art.

Farrow & Ball's Elephant's Breath.

Farrow & Ball's Elephant's Breath.

On a recent morning at the museum, curator Sarah Suzuki, who oversaw the expansion, noted that major changes to how MoMA’s collection is being shown necessitated a new approach to the physical gallery spaces. The museum is now presenting various artistic mediums together, and is giving greater visibility to some artists who have been historically underrepresented. As the museum aimed to surface new dialogues among artists, it also needed to, as Suzuki put it, “move away from traditional modes of display.”
MoMA’s director of exhibition design and production Lana Hum and her team were charged with this task. “We were thinking about and questioning this kind of anonymous white box, which is really the language of modern and contemporary art display,” Hum said. “All of the works at the time they were made were revelatory and radical, and we wanted to capture that…but we found that the white box falls short. It’s too anonymous. It doesn’t give you enough context.”
At the same time, different mediums have different requirements: Paintings can take a lot of light; works on paper can’t; film is typically shown in the dark. Wall color became an important tool for problem-solving, but also for setting tone and developing rhythm across mediums, while honoring the dialogues among artists.
Installation view of “Early Photography and Film,” in Gallery 502, at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo Jonathan Muzikar. © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art.

Installation view of “Early Photography and Film,” in Gallery 502, at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo Jonathan Muzikar. © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art.

Farrow & Ball's  Pelt.

Farrow & Ball's Pelt.

Installation view of “Around Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” in Gallery 503, at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp. © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art.

Installation view of “Around Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” in Gallery 503, at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp. © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art.

Farrow & Ball's  Skimming Stone.

Farrow & Ball's Skimming Stone.

Installation view of "Artists Books and Prints in Russia," in Gallery 507, at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo by Jonathan Muzikar. © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Installation view of "Artists Books and Prints in Russia," in Gallery 507, at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo by Jonathan Muzikar. © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Farrow & Ball's  Serge.

Farrow & Ball's Serge.

Installation view of "Florine Stettheimer and Company," in Gallery 509, at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo by Jonathan Muzikar. © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Installation view of "Florine Stettheimer and Company," in Gallery 509, at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo by Jonathan Muzikar. © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Farrow & Ball's  Cabbage White.

Farrow & Ball's Cabbage White.

Installation view of Claude Monet, Water Lilies, in Gallery 515, at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo by Kurt Heumiller. © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art.

Installation view of Claude Monet, Water Lilies, in Gallery 515, at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo by Kurt Heumiller. © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art.

Farrow & Ball's  Wevet.

Farrow & Ball's Wevet.

Casey Lesser is Artsy’s Lead Editor, Contemporary Art and Creativity.