November 23, 2004
How lite he is...
Out here in the Second City we are thankfully shielded from the MoMA echo-chamber. I've yet to read most, let alone all, of the reviews Tyler and others have linked to, and, whether the topic is Jacksongate, tripping up the stairs with Matisse or an apparently egregious lack of benches, I've extended myself the luxury of not really having to care all that much.
But, lest we grow too satisfied in our ignorance, we can rely on the inestimable Alan "G-Funk" Artner to bring it on home, and to crank it up. Joy.
He treats us to something of a discourse on that oh-so solid distinction between "modern" and "contemporary" in art, holding that contemporary art as such ought to be incommensurable with the mission of the Modern. If only we did things here like they do in gay old Paris:
In a state-supported museum system, MoMA might have become for the 20th Century what the Musee d'Orsay in Paris is for the 19th—a museum consecrated to only that segment of art history it has treated through the finest works held in the greatest depth. But, clearly, that was not thought to be enough in the United States.
Try and believe that the Tribune's top contemporary art critic is spitting out crap like this:
Here the most money and prospective gifts are now in the area of contemporary art, and the same has been presumed of audience interest. The supposed relevance of contemporary art is an especially significant consideration if you charge the highest admission fee of any major art museum in the world ($20 at MoMA). So you must not only emphasize the intent to acquire contemporary art but also the ability to show it in an edifice big enough to accommodate more of it so many more people will come see it—even if it's not what you are.
(I suppose someone's determined that Cindy Sherman and Joseph Beuys, even if they lack relevance, are more reliable crowd draws than Monet and Cezanne.)
I don't doubt that there are important issues at stake regarding any such turn toward the contemporary for an institution as historically situated as MoMA, but I frankly can't get past the personal prejudices Artner leans on here. The opposition he sets up is clear but flatly ridiculous as an over-arching rubric: modern = private intimacy + rigorous difficulty; contemporary = out-sized spectacle + vulgar entertainment. His sympathies clearly run with the former. But in which camp does he place, for sake of an example, Barnett Newman's continually rising star? Would he really describe Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon as an intimate easel painting?
Let's wash this all down with a modicum of faint praise:
MoMA has some of the best of a number of contemporary artists, from Giovanni Anselmo to Elizabeth Murray and Martin Puryear to Kiki Smith, as well as several in a generally admirable installation of drawings. However, when you have vast spaces to fill—including a permanent video gallery—there's a priority to fill them, even with pieces as empty as those on view by Damien Hirst, Elizabeth Peyton and Matthew Barney. Like Nature, a museum abhors a vacuum; paradoxically, the vacuous are helping fill it.
For four generations MoMA revealed profundity in all kinds of modern art. Will its still-to-open education center do the same with the contemporary? It had better. Else, the three restaurants, two bookstores, two theaters and enormous special exhibition space in this plain-showy building will readily become what the Modern now seems bent on embracing—entertainment.
What a crank.
Alan, you're enough to make me want to turn to Hilton Kramer for a dose of sanity.
"Alan Weighs In"
Posted by Dan at 01:14 AM
Chicago Tribune: Reimagining MoMA: Now, not then, is the new focus—Alan G. Artner
Chicago Tribune: Reimagining MoMA: Perfect harmony of drama, understatement—Blair Kamin
Greg.org: Free MoMA?? Try F(*#%-ing Expensive MoMA
James Wagner: new MoMA, a clean well-lighted space, and maybe no more
Modern Art Notes: MoMA opens
Modern Art Notes: MoMA: Reviewed
Modern Kicks: Barney in the big-time
Modern Kicks: now dance!
New York Observer: Oedipus on 53rd St.—Hilton Kramer