Monday, April 26, 2010

Art at the MoMA

Friday was the most beautiful wonderful New York day! I made it a holiday of sorts, and devoted myself to the pursuit of pleasure. In my case, that means sunning in Central Park with a book and a crochet project. After a few hours of laying blissfully in the spring grass (it's kind of ironic to think that I've got to get my fill of laying in the grass while I can, here in New York City, because in North Carolina you can't lay in the grass unless you want to be eaten alive by ticks, fire ants, spiders and other scary monsters), eating a strawberry FrozFruit (my favorite Central Park food-vendor treat!) I meandered down to Whole Foods and ate a healthy lunch. Then I visited the Museum of Arts and Design in its new location at Columbus Circle. It's a wonderful small museum, with a wonderful collection of American jewelry, glass, and sculpture. Two of the floors were being installed with a new exhibit while I was there, so I was able to view the artists constructing their pieces on location, which was fascinating, as well as beneficial, because they gave me a free ticket for future admission since the exhibits weren't completed yet. I'll have to go back and see the completed exhibition, which looked very interesting. It focuses on art made from dead things (bones, fur, insects, seeds, wood) which might sound disgusting, but can be quite interesting. However, I have taken a stand against the use of insects and feathers in art, which I will no doubt blog about in the future.

After that, I went to the Museum of Modern Art, to visit for the last time in a long time, my favorite paintings there. While I was there, I decided to make a list of my favorite pieces in the MoMA. Of course, not all the paintings that the museum owns are on display, so there are probably other pieces they have that would be on this list, but as of now, these are my top five favorites at the MoMA:

Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth. I don't understand why this painting is relegated to a hallway next to the escalator. Well, I do know why, but it makes me mad. These days Andrew Wyeth is looked at as passe, little more than an illustrator who just painted in an almost photo-realistic style the same old bleak scenes around his country neighborhood, with nothing groundbreaking or controversial (to today's eyes) about them. The stark emotionalism, pathos, and subtle genius of this exquisite painting is lost on the hordes of teenagers and tourists that mill through the museum snapping their bubblegum and striking disco poses in front of more ridiculous works of art. The people pass right on by and don't realize they are missing out on one of this nation's artistic masterpieces.

Stuart Davis. I love anything by Stuart Davis. Currently on view is his Egg Beater V, a still life from his series that focused on egg beaters. Yes, the common egg beater is a strange and curious thing to do a series of paintings on, but Davis loved to paint things with rounded and interconnecting shapes and, as an object, what could be more interesting and than an egg beater? Davis imbued his paintings with a sense of humor and whimsy that isn't saccharine at all, but somehow straightforward and easy on the eye. Add whatever psychological implications you'd like, and you've got yourself a great piece of modern art.

Dance (1) by Henri Matisse. This is actually a study for a painting commissioned by a rich Russian merchant for his palace, but it's not much different from the final version, which was paired with a contrasting painting titled Music. And, similar to Christina's World, this piece used to hang in a corner of the museum behind a staircase, where I would seek it out and visit it alone, since no one else bothered to look over there at it. Gladly, they've moved it to a much more prominent place, where viewers can better admire the simple--primal--beauty of the composition: earth, heaven, and mankind joined in a beautiful circle of joy and dance. I just love it.

Vincent Van Gogh's Portrait of Joseph Roulin. Perhaps the most famous of Van Gogh's works, The Starry Night, hangs near this portrait, and steals all the attention away from it, which is fine with me, because it gives me more room to stare at the strange and beautiful head with its curly beard and feminine floral background. My favorite painting subject is the portrait--people's faces are the most interesting landscape there is--and Van Gogh imbues this one with all his roiling emotion, marrying a long tradition of stark German and Dutch portraiture with the vibrant colors and joyous mood of the South of France. The form of Roulin is solidly placed in the center of a whimsical background, perhaps mirroring the dynamics of the friendship between the old stolid postmaster and the mentally tormented young artist.

One: Number 31, 1950 by Jackson Pollock. So what's the big deal about the splatter painting? These days it's almost like been there, done that when you think about Jackson Pollock's signature style. Still, it's very hard not to be arrested by the sight of this painting when you enter the room where it is housed. Commanding an entire wall, it draws you into it's spell, and the painting is best viewed up close, where you feel surrounded by the frenetic motion of it's drips, splatters, strokes, and expression. I can't really explain Pollock's genius, except to say that he did what no one else had ever done before, and did it beautifully. His paintings make me think of writing, music, city-life, nature, humanity, chaos, and order.

Honorable Mentions: Drowning by Roy Lichtenstein and Campbell's Soup Cans by Andy Warhol. Both pop artists are iconic and these two pieces are excellent examples of their work. It's easy to think of these as silly or gimmicky, but they have an undeniable charm, and are so much more interesting in real life than on the pages of an art history book. Then there is one corner of the MoMA that I call the "De Chirico Corner" because there three pieces by this master of surrealism are all hung together (one of them is pictured here). I love De Chirico's bright palette, mysterious choice of subject matter, and bold, flat painting style. Every one of his paintings is a treat to look at. Oh, and I can't forget to mention the skinniest painting in the world! The Wild by Barnett Newman is an oil on canvas seven feet tall but only 1.75 inches wide, which is hilarious because it is hung next to one of his monumental works. It always makes me laugh.

Last but not least, in the "Too Amazing to Categorize" category, is Picasso. Picasso was an utter and undeniable artistic genius, and I can't put him in my list of favorites because there are too many amazing pieces to choose from. His long and extremely prolific career is in an artistic universe of its own, so I'll just write a whole separate post about him later.

I recommend a visit to the MoMA for anyone. Among the pieces I've mentioned, the museum also houses incredibly famous paintings such as The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali (you know, the one with the melting watches) as well as some of the most revolutionary paintings in modern art history, such as Picasso's Les Demoiselles D'Avignon. There is always some crazy special exhibit going on, too, so it's always a fun place to go.

Also, later I'm going to blog about crazy things I've seen happen at the MoMA, the art that "anyone could do" and the stuff that just looks like something you might find in a Harlem alleyway.


Just Julie said...

Before I left New York I also had to spend one last day at the's so lovely there.

Chris said...

If you love Andrew Wyeth - please make your way to upstate New York this summer.The Hyde Collection, a fine arts museum and historic house in Glens Falls, NY (just south of Lake George) will present Andrew Wyeth:An American Legend with major works from the Farnsworth, the Hood, The Shelburne, the Whitney and more, including works from private collections!