I had a once in a lifetime opportunity in November 2019 to visit New York for the first time. Amongst the splendour and buzz of the diverse metropolis, there housed a fiesta of creativity, ranging from small independent galleries, street performances and urban street art. To the larger sophisticated art galleries such as the Guggenheim and the MOMA. I had been eager to visit the MOMA throughout my year of planning prior to touch down on U.S soil, and was in no way disappointed by floor after floor of modern and contemporary art.
I was taking this golden opportunity to not only see some of the worlds greatest modern masterpieces up close. But to look at each section of the gallery as a curatorial exercise. To see how each painting, installation, sculpture, piece of film or photography had been fused together to take the viewer on a visual journey. With the third year final show in mind. I was searching for inspiration, and how I could incorporate my own wow factor into the exhibition that would not only stand out, but compliment and be complimented by the work around it.
During my time at art school, I have been involved in the full process of curating exhibitions on a miniscule scale in comparison. I couldn’t even begin to comprehend the amount of man hours, blood, sweat and tears that could possibly have gone into this visual banquet. Although I am fond of much smaller exhibitions as a personal preference, I didn’t feel that any of the art works were lost in the vastness of the architecture. The rooms were spacious and set out in a way for the viewer to feel relaxed and able to take time and enjoy the artworks, and not become visually overwhelmed by the quantity of art on show.
I found artists and artwork I was unfamiliar with amongst the world famous paintings of Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne and Van Gogh. To the modern feminist art of Kruger, Holzer and Sherman. European and American influences of Duchamp, Klee, Hopper and Lichtenstein. The list is endless, and indeed it would probably take me the full day I spent at the gallery to begin to catalogue them all.
The Starry night: Vincent Van Gough
I didn’t expect to be so moved by pieces of work I had previously studied But there was something magical about being in the presence of great art, that one couldn’t help but be swept away in the emotion, the message and the story, amplified by the vast white space and clean lines of the building. I was particularly moved by Van Gough’s Starry night, a painting I had previously appreciated on an aesthetically pleasing level. To see it close up, each brush stroke and layer upon layer of oil paint, standing vibrant into the 21st century and making me feel that this is the closest I would ever get to time travel. I hadn’t expected it to be my favourite piece of art in the gallery, but I found myself transfixed and revisited it a number of times during the day.
The mid scale oil on canvas painting, is dominated by a moon, and a star filled night sky. It appears almost turbulent with the intensely swirling patterns that appear to roll along the surface like waves. Beneath the majestic sky sits a humble village, surrounding a church, where the steeple rises sharply above the undulating blue-black. A cypress tree is the focus of the foreground, rising almost like a flame towards the top of the canvas, serving as a visual link between the land and the sky. I later learned that cypress trees were regarded as symbols of graveyards, or mourning. The painting Starry night, is based on Van Gough’s direct observation as well as imagination. In a letter to his brother, he had told him about the morning star and how big it shone above the countryside. I think I was drawn in by the combination of contrasts generated by an artist who found such beauty in the night sky, and I felt invited in to his world, if only for a short while.
Pablo Picasso/Faith Ringgold
The MOMA housed a large collection of works by Picasso, each one stylised and curated to represent the period it was created in. I had wondered why Picasso’s work hadn’t been grouped together to form it’s own cohesive collection. But I was intrigued to discover each piece standing recognisably amongst other contemporary, and post modern works, creating an interesting contrast. The personal collection galleries proceed largely in chronological order, each is arranged curatorially according to a different theme. Each is like it’s own exhibition, linked to the others, yet structured independently. Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, painted in 1907 was of a particular interest to me, as it was a painting I had concentrated on during an early second year contextual studies assignment. It was paired with Faith Ringgold’s American People series #20: Die (1967).
The passages of Die recall the pink and yellow sections and the interlocking blues and whites of Picasso’s Demoiselles. But it’s reference to protests of contemporaneous violence strikes me more as a Guernica (1937) homage, which hit me the moment I saw it in all its grandeur. Although aesthetically pleasing to the eye against the starkness of the white gallery walls, I felt that Ringgold’s Die would have been better placed alongside Guernica in the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid where it currently resides, however, one might distract from the other if that had been the case.
In this instance, the curator cleverly paired the two large contrasting, yet somehow complimentary pieces together. One depicting the vibrations of a tribe at peace, bathing during Picasso’s period of colonial interest. The other depicting a post modern Americanised interpretation of violence, with it’s composition echoing the Guernica original, obviously purposefully done and colours carefully chosen by Rinngold.
The relationship between architecture, design and art is a theme I found consistently running throughout the gallery, hosting sculpture, installation, photography and film into it’s mix. I was particularly impressed with the increase of female artists work, hosting pieces by Sherman, Krueger, The guerilla girls and Holzer, who have all been a massive part of my research and inspiration during the degree.
I was interested in piece by Marlene Dumas, Chlorosis (love sick) 1994. It consisted of acrylic and gouache on 24 individual sheets of paper. The images representing Polaroid snapshots, and painted with a wash of green hue to suggest apparitions of internal states. The title and colour describing an anaemic disease and coming from Greek origin. Chlorosis was sometimes referred to as the virgins disease, and was considered a sickness caused by the suffering of unrequited love. I researched the work of Dumas and the pieces meaning at a later date, and as a hopeless romantic with a medical background, I loved the piece even more. My initial impression of it at the gallery was the raw quality of the way it had been displayed which caught my eye. The individual images weren’t framed, but hung to the wall crudely, and with a uniformity giving the images a softer edge and enhancing the washed quality of the gouache against the harsher edge of the acrylic.
I have done quite a bit of experimentation with mannequins, mannequin heads and semi sculptured pieces during my time as a student, and found this porcelain sculpture ‘Retrospective Bust of A Woman 1933’ by Salvador Dali strangely fascinating.
I was even more fascinated to learn that the representation of woman in this case, was like an object to be consumed with the loaf and corn as obvious symbols, and ants crawling up her forehead to catch the crumbs of bread. Dali uses his unique blend of alternate reality with a fetishistic fantasy always prominent in his surrealist paintings. Allowing the viewer to escape reality and explore what lies beneath the surface.
My favourite gallery space of the day was the collection of pop art/ popular culture pieces. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Lichtenstein’s work at the Tate Gallery in Liverpool that can be found as an independent blog on https://wordpress.com/post/paulajaneart.wordpress.com/804 Pop art has always appealed to the feminist side of me, challenging the conventional values propagated by mass media, which I think stands even more prevalent today through the often toxic culture of social media. We live in a vast consumerist society, and pop art artists pioneered the satirical notions of femininity, patriotism and domesticity, with even the movement itself causing a stir in the art world. From Lichtenstein’s tongue in cheek Drowning girl, to Warhol’s repetitious Campbells soup cans, you can’t help but be pulled in by the vibracious wonder that is Pop Art in my opinion.
A piece that did stand out to me due to my love of combining text with other mediums to create art, was a large scale oil and collage on fabric mounted plywood. ‘Flag’ (1954-55) by Jasper Johns. The painting is a regular American flag, a symbol of independence and patriotism, but it’s not until you get up close and personal with the artwork that your eye seems to catch the multitude of text underneath. The text underneath is a collage of newspaper articles who’s dates locate this commonplace symbolism within a particular moment. it took me back to an exhibition I had been part of at the Harris museum in Preston last year where I used articles about Brexit collaged onto the canvas, with an eye painted over the top, the symbol of the UK and EU flag mirrored within the eye.
The MOMA was indeed an unforgettable experience of culture and diversity, and I could literally just keep typing and typing about all the pieces of art I saw. I would highly recommend a visit to this iconic gallery if you have the opportunity to visit new York. Or even any gallery, big or small, there is such a big world of culture out there. Even during lock down because of Covid-19 we are able to interactively delve into the art worlds via our laptops and ipads, why, I was at Seoul gallery only yesterday!! What a fantastic opportunity the art galleries have given us by throwing their doors open wide.