Sunday, June 17, 2012

Museum of Modern Art , NYC

I have to say Dave and I were disappointed in our Monday visit to the MOMA, the world renown modern art museum now housed in a building designed by Yoshio Taniguchi.

The new building has acoustical problems.  Especially if there are a zillion school children waiting in the main lobby and then moving in herds up the staircases and escalators.   Another gripe was that there was too much "dark" themed art or conceptual art pieces being shown. The collection that I know they own didn't seem as balanced as it might have been this time.

   As you all know political,  provocative, grisly subjects are  "a la mode" these days .  Conceptual art being art in which the idea is more important than the execution of the objects to represent it:   from the Wiki:

Conceptual art is art in which the concepts(s) or ideas(s) involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic and material concerns. Many of the works, sometimes called installations, of the artist Sol LeWitt may be constructed by anyone simply by following a set of written instructions. This method was fundamental to LeWitt's definition of Conceptual art, one of the first to appear in print:
In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.
  Myself I can only appreciate conceptual art if the artist    a) lets us in on the joke and
b) does an impressive job with the objects that are shown to illustrate the concept.

 After all , once we know the punchline all we have left to appreciate are the objects in place.

 The main show while we visited the MOMA was on the fifth floor.  It was Cindy Sherman who is  a conceptual artist of sorts.   Her idea is to show herself in all different guises that represent present or past society.  This means that she dresses up as various kinds of people (men and women) or historical or contemporary personages or paintings and then photographs herself in the full make-up and costume of that person.

      Cindy Sherman photos
The museum says it like this:
Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954) is widely recognized as one of the most important and influential artists in contemporary art. Throughout her career, she has presented a sustained, eloquent, and provocative exploration of the construction of contemporary identity and the nature of representation, drawn from the unlimited supply of images from movies, TV, magazines, the Internet, and art history. Working as her own model for more than 30 years, Sherman has captured herself in a range of guises and personas which are at turns amusing and disturbing, distasteful and affecting. To create her photographs, she assumes multiple roles of photographer, model, makeup artist, hairdresser, stylist, and wardrobe mistress. With an arsenal of wigs, costumes, makeup, prosthetics, and props, Sherman has deftly altered her physique and surroundings to create a myriad of intriguing tableaus and characters, from screen siren to clown to aging socialite.

                                                                   Cindy Sherman
I admire her work to a point.  I could really appreciate 3 or 4 pieces of her retrospective and admire some of the others.   These few struck a real mood or were more ambiguous and mysterious than the other photographs which are easily digested.   The problem for me is that those 30 years of photographs give me diminishing returns.  Is it really an idea worth pursuing for all those years?

 Well, only you and she can answer that...  maybe if Dave and I could sit down for a while we could go back to it with a fresh eye.

 Unfortunately for those who are saturated, there are very few seats available in the new MOMA.   We found an uninspired cafe which had a line in front and an expensive restaurant that appeared to be "complet" as well.    So much for a leisurely morning in a world class museum.  

Not surprisingly most of the crowds were on the fourth floor entitled "painting and sculpture".

  On this floor we were soon to find out that this is where all of the docents were ..... surrounded as they were each with 30 people in front of a painting giving their spiel.

And it was also where all the school kids had ended up. The museum lets in a "ton" of people , it is an immense space but always feels too crowded .   If painting and sculpture are still so popular why don't the powers of the museum devote a bit more space to it?

Here are a few snaps I managed to capture by maneuvering in front of tour groups.

Helen Frankenthayer paints directly on a bare canvas.  I have always admired the muted colors that come from her choice and process.  I really like this one.

 detail of a Jackson Pollack.   They had fewer Pollacks on show than the Metropolitan Museum.

 Close up of a detail of the same painting..

 A Picasso I never remember seeing.   It's a nice one, non?

This is the fur covered cup and spoon by Meret Oppenheim called Le Dejeuner en Fourrure, 1936.   I like this kind of "conceptual" art because it is also well executed.

I was attracted to this Modigliani as I sold a copy this painting  in Italy years ago when I started to paint.

Quite a few attractive paintings by Matisse were being exhibited.

And arguably this is the pivotal painting in the whole museum and maybe the whole town.     As the museum elucidates:

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973)

The result of months of preparation and revision, this painting revolutionized the art world when first seen in Picasso's studio. Its monumental size underscored the shocking incoherence resulting from the outright sabotage of conventional representation. Picasso drew on sources as diverse as Iberian sculpture, African tribal masks, and El Greco's painting to make this startling composition. In his preparatory studies, the figure at left was a medical student entering a brothel. Picasso, wanting no anecdotal detail to interfere with the sheer impact of the work, decided to eliminate it in the final painting. The only remaining allusion to the brothel lies in the title: Avignon was a street in Barcelona famed for its brothel.

I snapped this Van Gogh because it also has memories for me.  When I lived in Italy,  I made a copy of it and sold the copy for 1000 dollars framed.  Hmmm. Maybe I should go back to doing copies.  
I loved seeing the painting.  I'm just not fond of seeing it depicted on mugs and t-shirts. 

Dave and I were charmed by this Gauguin that we had never seen before

Another wonderful Gauguin

I am beginning to love "a Rousseau" more each time I see one.

 THE Artist has a wonderful naive quality that works so well.  Look at the angled arm so unlikely in a sleeping person ...but Rousseau I am sure was convinced that he had the natural pose.  Likewise the feet that look as if the person were standing.     And how wonderful is the lion's tail in the moonlight and the way the moon illuminates the lion's back and legs.    It is a successful painting because of all its unexpectedness, its simplicity and spareness.  And the colors are soothing and perfectly modulated .

To cap our experience at MOMA:

   I was chagrined that out of a collection of 7 or 8 Gerhard Richters there was only one tiny one on display.   I was also hoping to see a Joan Mitchell as I know they have several good ones and you can't find them many places. If I lived in NYC I would check the web site to see what they are showing before paying the high price of a ticket.

    A major problem is that there is just too much art to experience in one morning and you have to choose what you will see.  This is probably one of the reasons that people crowd the paintings and sculpture works which are much easier to understand.   The latest Modernist art isn't as easy to take in, so you really need a leisurely visit or the chance to come back at a reduced rate for another day.

 Exhausted by our morning, we headed down the stairs where I got some consolation by finding this Joan Mitchell high up on the wall in the lobby.  However,  the room was too crowded and noisy to give it more than a moment of my time and I quickly snapped this photo.  

 Outside in the rain the line squirmed down the block to get into this renowned museum.   It seems that Art is alive and well in NYC and the museum is a popular destination. 

 I just hope those folks waiting to get in have brought an umbrella, a full wallet,  a snack, ear plugs , a camp chair and more enthusiasm and resilence than I could muster.   Maybe I have it all wrong.  Maybe this museum was designed for kids.  They seem to have been enjoying it, shouting and racing about with glee. 


  1. Sorry to hear the museum was a bit of a zoo but it looks like you got some worthwhile snaps of what you did see. Seattle just had a big Gauguin exhibition but I don't recognize those works; I think they are more subdued than the ones we had on display. Love that Joan Mitchell.

  2. June is top tourist time in New York, and they all visit MOMA, especially Europeans and Japanese. You found quite a few excellent pictures to photograph without evidence of a surging mob. When I lived there we always had membership cards. There were "members only" days
    from time to times, so you could luxuriate in relative peace. In the 60's we used to hang out 3 or 4 afternoons a week in the garden drinking beer and schmoozing. On week days the place was nearly deserted. This was an era before ART was embraced by the hoi-poloi. They've been sold it just like toothpaste or toilet paper. If you watch people (I always do) you'll see most of them could give a shit about the paintings. They glide from room to room with glazed eyes and constantly chatting. Yes, I mean women. I've been a fan of Cindy Sherman since the 70's.
    I think your assessment is correct. She's good, but...btw
    Joe Kosuth owes me money on an unpaid tab from 40
    years ago. Prick. ;-) BB

  3. Bruce, I don't know Joe Kosuth's "stuff" but if he is questioning the nature of art I am all for that. but I would want him to trade "in kind" for his unpaid one needs an art installation unless they can flog it.

    Yes, hadn't thought that possibly June is the most crowded month in the museum. It's true so many people just are waiting to go have lunch after....not really looking.

  4. Yes, Mai, I do now really adore that Joan Mitchell and did manage to see more than a few treasures that day. And I think that a photo does give one time to contemplate in a quieter atmosphere.

    With the wrong atmosphere in the room, it is really hard to get into the work. Now I see why people hire the commentary on the little devices. At least you filter out the rest of the noise in the room while you are listening to it and can maybe concentrate.

  5. These 2 museum posts are lovely, I especially love the Hoppers, I must go back to NY at some point in my life.

    The Richters which weren't on display are probably travelling with the major retrospective that started in's now in Centre Pompidou until September. It's worth seeing - I worked on the exhibition catalogue.

  6. Thank you Roz. You are so right.. the Richters will be in Paris about now.