It has been a year since The Museum of Modern Art reopened in Midtown Manhattan and in many ways MoMA has become the contemporary art equivalent of the elephant's graveyard. It is where we grieve and remember the death of giants and look at the bones while poachers scavenge for ivory tusks. It's a parade of masterpieces
and names, an epistemology of aesthetics that (according to Saltz
and others) the faithful recite like the Lord's
Prayer or Pledge of Allegiance. Yet masterpieces like Picasso's Les Demoiselles
, Barnett Newman's Vir Heroicus Sublimis
and Matisse's The
are guaranteed to deliver the goods. MoMA has lost what I call
its freak factor
lets just say MoMA is infuriating if you like to be infuriated
by art occasionally. It just doesn't happen there
instead one gets the inevitable
retrospective on Dec 15th
. I can't wait for the video art retrospective on
? At that point who needs MoMA's walls?
The core of greatness in the early & mid twentieth century collections lets MoMA
get lazy and its very telling that Robert
, the most intellectually engaged and talented (academic) curator of
his time felt MoMA just wasn't home any more. I suspect he will return (the once
and future curator) when he can be given the autonomy and integrity he deserves
and demands. Storr has repeatedly challenged the party line of recent art history
(market hype) by applying more ancient art history tropes as a litmus test. He
even challenges his own experience as a practicing artist against the mandarin
machinations of the art world in general. I'm interested if Storr can revive the
2007 Venice biennial? and I saw his 2004
Site Santa Fe
biennial as a huge critique of MoMA and the general state of
museum practices. It wasnt bombastic but it had focus and took risks.
Still, the fact remains that the USA's cultural capital, New York, has lost
its adolescent cultural verve and nowhere is it more apparent than MoMA, whose
building seems to edit out mistakes. Instead of surprises we get the inevitable
at MoMA and one wonders how much the decision to use Taniguchi as architect
instead of Rem Koolhaas or Steven Holl suddenly framed the entire place as a
mall/mausoleum? The new hang looks better for the contemporary galleries but
it still seems completely devoid of balls.
Simply put the space is too neutral and doesn't challenge the art objects enough
or prompt the works to justify themselves (except maybe Newman's Broken Obelisk and
the competition for viewing the immense crowds create). Where is the reevaluation? Although the collections aren't
even laughably comparable, all I know is that the less than ultra ambitious
or ideal new Jubitz
Center for Modern and Contemporary Art in Portland
feels more 21st century
than MoMA does. It's funny because it's a pragmatic renovation of a 1920's Masonic
temple! This is also true of the new corridors of the new Walker Arts Center
and the Milwaukee Art Museum's Santiago Calatrava Wing. Tadao
Ando's museum in Fort Worth
manages to be both ideal and challenging in
a way that MoMA utterly lacks. I love the decadence of devoting certain rooms
to just one work of art and MoMA lacks this kind of extreme hedonism. Instead
it seems encyclopedic.
I also feel the art in MoMA has inherited Western Civilization's mid-life crisis
with the progress of the industrial revolution; now even those stubbornly inefficient
art markets have become ruthlessly efficient. Yet these fragmented and practically
medieval markets (i.e. closed) remain largely unregulated (artist unions like the teamsters?
It won't happen, yet
). This mating of feudal markets and industrial efficiency
is compounding the art world's conservatism because the bigger collectors aren't invested with personal (and partly regional)
pride like Saatchi had with the YBA's or Gertrude Stein had with Cubism. Hell
even Alfred Barr Jr. had an infectious pride that Glenn Lowry lacks.
Nowhere was this lack of individual pride traded for a dollop of art by committee
more apparent than the recent UBS
corporate art show at MoMA
. It was just too tidy, timid and "invested"
to deserve a show at MoMA, I liked the version out here in Portland but MoMA
can do better than that. Still MoMA might not be as dead as Jerry
Saltz describes it
and the museum recently took a cue from the Hammer Museum's
successful resurrection of the tough to pigeonhole Lee
show. The Bontecou show eventually made its way to MoMA when it
was in Queens during the rennovations. Bontecou is a worthy second tier but
still major artist who disappeared and then reappeared because the Hammer wasn't
afraid to step outside cannon. Now MoMA has resurrected yet another resurgent,
major but second tier female artist Elizabeth
(notice how Robert Storr visits like George Clooney did on ER from
time to time).
Although I haven't seen the show in person the Murray show has deepened both
my appreciation and bias against Murray as both too kitschy and not kitschy
enough. What's more I've met her, she's bright but one feels as if she's unwilling
to risk being pinned down. A leader accepts that mantel (often with a deft quirky
move), and Murray, like Bontecou is possibly too selfish to achieve the generosity
of artist like Agnes Martin or Gerhard Richter who are first tier. Lynda Benglis
is also of that second tier rank (right now) but I suspect a retrospective of
her would reveal her to be far more influential and generous than both Bontecou
and Murray combined. Also, MoMA's choice of Murray seems less ballsey than Bontecou
because Murray has been ever-present in the corporate art sphere, giving her
an air of obnoxious boardroom inevitability and leads to viewer cynicism. Also, every
time I see one of her works I want something meatier and feel like I've been
cheated by a midway carnie. Artists like Richard Tuttle, Agnes Martin and the
gorgeous Robert Smithson retrospective all delivered without the kind of beckoning
calls that one gets from Murray's work.
Maybe that is the problem with MoMA. It doesn't seem to risk its strengths
like early and mid-century modernism or risk a strong reappraisal of the current
moment through tough architecture. Instead, its spaces seem like cultured butlers
tending to the art's every need. It's a softness that needs to go. Why not risk
putting Robert Gober and Otto Dix together?
use MoMA like an art super
collider not a hospice.
begins his three part assesment of MoMA as well. Also, as mentioned before Jerry Saltz
has made his one year assessment already.