PRINT December 1971

The Director of the Museum of Modern Art Speaks

“Art should be kicking and screaming in the middle of contemporary society rather than literally and figuratively transferred out of reach and out of touch.”
—John Hightower, from “Are Art Galleries Obsolete,” a symposium sponsored by the Art Gallery of Ontario, Feb. 1968.

“I am interested in trying to take the arts out of their silken cocoon and relay them to the concerns of everyday life.”
—John Hightower, quoted in the Lewiston, Me., Journal, March 7, 1970.

“A complete restructuring of arts organizations should take place so that they are governed and directed by people who feel passionately about the arts and secondarily about the institutions that house them. At the present time, most organizations are dominated by wealthy individuals, most of whom are businessmen. Their concerns are primarily the management of money and not the philosophical or aesthetic courage of the institution. People are needed on boards of non-profit organizations who are not afraid to risk the almighty tax exemption to defend a principle of artistic or intellectual freedom.”
—John Hightower, from “The Arts as Environment Imperatives,” Art In Society, Summer, 1970.

“In the late 1960s, museums in New York City were asked to be lots of things they weren’t—foundations, giving grants and commissioning work from artists; community galleries, which some accomplished successfully, others not so. In a year, I’ve learned that MoMA isn’t any one of those things and shouldn’t be. What it is, is a harder question. For one, an institution that expands—or is sensitive to the expansion of—definitions of art. For another, an institution that preserves, hopefully for time immemorial, great works of modern culture. . . .”
—John Hightower, quoted by Grace Glueck, New York Times, July 23, 1971.

The quintessence of the Museum is its collection. The collection will endure beyond any individual. staff member regardless of seniority or contribution to the Museum, and the entire staff, including myself, is expendable.
—Paraphrase of remarks by John Hightower, in secretary’s notes, Staff Association, Museum of Modern Art, August 20, 1971.