The Curator’s View: Meet me at the MoMA

From the desk of Linda Jansma, our curator. 

I photocopied an ArtsNews article that appeared in the magazine this past winter. It described a unique program offered at the MoMA in New York City that brought patients with dementia and their caregivers into the gallery for tours and discussions on a monthly basis.


(all images via

I contacted the woman who has spear-headed Meet Me at the MoMA, a program that started in 2006, and arranged to watch a tour during a recent visit to New York. I was one of 115 people who met at 2 p.m. on a warm Tuesday afternoon (the day the gallery is closed to the public, making it easier for the groups to move through the gallery spaces). We were divided into coloured groups: blue, purple, green, red, orange and yellow and given name tags and stools and then each group was led into the gallery spaces by an instructor and volunteer. Our group had a second observer – Ali, who works at the Alzheimer society in New York, helping patients paint – he sensitively equated the disease with art, calling it an abstraction of the mind.


Our leader, Meryl, stopped in front of two paintings by surrealist artist Yves Tanguy. We spent twenty minutes contemplating the colour and shapes in each painting, and listening to the comments of both patient and caregiver. No one was in a hurry and there were no wrong answers: what looked like a desert to one, reminded another of the board walk of Atlantic City, while many could see the “body” after it was described. Meryl worked her magic by coaxing patients to draw on past memories to bring meaning to the work. She did the same in front of Willem de Kooning’s Woman I (William kept coming back to just how large that woman’s arms were!), and the minimalist sculpture of Lynda Benglis (definitely looked like duck-billed platypuses). What everyone seemed to agree on was that none of them would actually want to live with any of the work they saw that afternoon.


The disease had progressed differently in many of the patients: I spoke with Karen on the way to the gallery, assuming that she was a caregiver, and was told that she has had Alzheimer’s for “a long, long, long time,” while other participants could only whisper simple answers to the questions asked. The caregivers were equal participants in the program, an acknowledgement to the difficulty inherent in their jobs and that this was an outlet for them, as well.

The gallery deserves the accolades and awards it has received for Meet Me at the MoMA, a program delivered with sensitivity, awarding each of its participants with dignity by drawing on memories that tell of lives that continue to be meaningful.

Read more on the MoMA’s website: