Among Berra’s truest aphorisms was this: “It’s so crowded, nobody goes there any more.”

In a recent profile of Lowry, an “anonymous” fellow museum director observed:

People remember the ‘good old Modern’ when it was smaller and more intimate… People wanted MoMA to be the greatest museum in the world, and for everyone to want to go there. Now everyone wants to go, but people say it’s too crowded.

The anonymous director is referencing the barrage of recent criticism of Lowry: complaints by leading art commentators such as Richard Woodward (of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal) and Jerry Saltz (of New York Magazine) about the museum’s current Bjork show, it’s renovation/expansion plans, and it’s overall direction. These critics complain that MoMA has replaced the contemplation of serious art with a celebration of popular culture.

Lowry is engaged in some of the finest work in the liberal arts tradition – building bridges between the intellectual and the commonplace – and it’s refreshing to see him pushing back against the frivolous and elitist complaints:

We were never founded to be a club… [MoMA founding director Alfred] Barr talked about the museum being both popular and populist. Of course, 80 years ago it was a much smaller public… Modern art suddenly became hot. We are both a beneficiary of the newfound interest and a victim of people’s discomfort with that interest.

Before the trendy thing in art circles was to criticize Lowry as a populist, the conventional wisdom celebrated him for his success at MoMA. Lowry shares the credit with a supportive board and a talented staff, but after twenty years, there can be no doubt who has driven MoMA’s ascendancy over that time:

When I first arrived, we started thinking about the fact that we could build a seasonal programme that relied on the aggregate of exhibitions [rather than lone “blockbuster” shows]. If you get that right, you have a really robust audience, because you’re speaking to a lot of different people.

And Lowry cites his initiatives at MoMA beyond the gallery:

The [Contemporary and Modern Art Perspectives in a Global Age Initiative] programme is pure scholarship and research that brings curators, artists, educators, critics, collectors and scholars from around the world to work with our staff… I come from a sufficiently academic background that I was interested in the idea of deep thinking with no expected outcomes. The end result is that our curators have a richer intellectual life, and that makes the institution more interesting.

Eight of the ten most visited shows in New York last year were at MoMA, and under Lowry’s leadership, its accomplishments have included staging numerous memorable shows, not just the numerical and fundraising successes often cited. So there won’t be much sympathy for the “Fire Glenn Lowry” movement here.

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