Metropolitan Museum of Art

MoMA, New York City

Manhattan has three world-class art museums.  The Guggenheim, which is known for its rotating exhibitions, is a work of art in itself.  There’s the Metropolitan Museum of Art that houses a collection that’s representative of the entire sweep of human artistic endeavor.  And then there’s MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) that concentrates entirely on contemporary art from the impressionists to post- modernism and beyond…

Went to MoMA this past week.  We went on a weekday, thinking that the place would be relatively quiet.  No such luck.  The place was positively packed.  I would soon discover why.  True, there was a special Tim Burton (American filmmaker) exhibition.  It required an additional fee to enter and was already sold out by the time we got there.  I came in the company of a young visitor from Brazil who has very likely had only minimal exposure to Burton’s work (“Alice in Wonderland”, et al) and we both felt it no great loss at being denied access to the area where these particular displays were shown.

No, this wasn’t the reason for the palpable excitement.  What drew the crowd was the performance art, orchestrated by Yugoslav-born Marina Abramović.  It involved live human figures (including herself), within both vertical and horizontal frames, sitting or standing in immobile poses.  At one juncture, we encountered the naked form of a woman suspended within a frame of light against a wall.  It looked like a very good study in extreme realism.  A second glance revealed (or was it a slight movement?) that she was entirely real – like Jesus on the cross.  Most of the exhibits involved clothed models.  (The artist herself, performing in the Marron Atrium, was fully clothed).  The exhibit nevertheless conveyed an eerie feeling as it went against the convention of seeing human beings in motion (as in a dance).  Obviously, photography was not permitted.

But we had not come even to see that.  We had come to see what has traditionally come to be known as ‘art’.  When it comes to post-modernism, it can still be debated what is art and what is not.  A story I read recently in a British tabloid comes to mind.  It seems that the night crew at the British Museum inadvertently swept up a display and sent it out with the trash.  This might have happened as well back when Picasso first started experimenting with cubism and distorting the face of lover and muse, Dora Maar, on canvas.  Today, we look to Picasso as an inspired talent and innovator who has given us an opening to see our world in different ways.

There are many recognizable images to see first-hand at MoMA.  Many of these have become the ciphers by which we recognize our collective culture.  Though we have seen many of them in passing on the covers of books and magazines, it’s a special thrill to actually stand in their presence.  Andy Warhol’s “Soup Cans”, for instance; Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World”; Tom Wesselmann’s “Still Life# 30…  I could go on and on.

There are design exhibits; collections of photographs, sketches, architectural models; outdoor and indoor sculptures.  MoMA also features films, vehicles, and furniture.  In other words, there’s plenty to see and to do here on a rainy afternoon in New York.  Whenever, I visit an art museum, I generally find myself rushing through it with the thought of getting the most for my money.  It seldom occurs to me that each work that has made it this far took pains, inspiration and, above all, time to realize.  As such, it might be entirely appropriate to sit and gaze at Monet’s “Water Lilies”, for instance, for as long as it took the artist to paint them, and perhaps therein lies the clue behind the meaning of what Marina Abramović is trying to convey by her performance art.

Peter Koelliker; pkoelliker8@




MoMA photo attachment# 1:

1.  Andrew Wyeth’s ‘Christina’s World’

2.  Andy Warhol’s ‘Soup Cans’

3.  Tom Wesselmann’s ‘Still Life# 30’

4.  Barnett Newman’s ‘Broken Obelisk” (detail)

5.  Vespa

MoMA photo attachment# 2:

1.  Henri Rousseau’s ‘The Dream’

2.  Pablo Picasso’s ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

3.  Jackson Pollock’s ‘No. 31”

4.  Piet Mondrian’s ‘Broadway Boogie Woogie’

5.  Henri Matisse’s ‘Dance’

6.  Aristide Maillol’s ‘The River’

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