It's Friday night. Hey, let's go to the MoMA! Check your backpacks and briefcases at the door. Eschew the esoteric aura which intimidates so many from entering a world famous museum, especially one filled with art deemed "modern." Roam through the museum with an enthusiastic friend -- in my case my aunt. Comfortable walking shoes are a plus, and an open mind is de rigueur. It is close to impossible to see every exhibit in one day at a museum as extensive as MoMA since even the most ambitious art lover becomes visually overwhelmed. Thus, I will highlight artists and specific artworks from my most recent visit which made me stop and say, "Wow, look at this," "Fascinating," and, of course, "Huh?"
MoMA offers "Free Friday Nights" held on Friday evenings from 4:00 to 8:00PM, which delighted me and my aunt. Freebie tickets in hand, we cheerfully climbed the steps to the second floor exhibit, Wait, Later This Will be Nothing, by Dieter Roth, a Swiss artist and seeming gastronome who particularly enjoyed cheese and sausage. A peculiar wurst hung in a glass box entitled Literature Sausage; in actuality, Roth created the wurst from a mixture of fat, gelatin, water, and, interestingly, the crumpled works of various authors. Roth then stuffed the mixture into sausage casings. To me, it seemed to capture the college lunchtime experience: hungrily stuffing down a sausage sandwich (made from God-knows-what), while quickly skimming Faulkner before an English class.
Also on view were Roth's 6 Piccadillies, a series of six photographs of Piccadilly Square in London which he stylistically altered. The original image was a photograph of Piccadilly Square which appeared on a postcard. Roth proceeded to enlarge the image, reproduce it six times and artistically render each subsequent image. One Piccadilly appeared in bold colors, while another was enshrouded in white fog and another almost entirely in black except for three visible Routemaster busses. Placed alongside one another, the six identical yet altered images created an entirely new and vibrant visual landscape.
We ventured from Dieter Roth's exhibit into the black and white realm of Shadows and Light, an exhibition of photographs by the prolific British-German photographer Bill Brandt. Brandt photographed Britain's working class during the 1930s and 1940s, specifically during the Second World War. Haunting images of men, women and children huddled together in the cavernous London Underground during the Blitzkrieg were on view. Two images remain in my mind: the first image was of a woman in service, fully clothed in her black and white maid's uniform, bending over a bath filling with water; the second image portrayed a soot covered coal miner and his wife at their dinner table. The minute details such as the maid's black shoes and the coal miner's filthy hands were captured with mundane clarity. Brandt's images were not only psychosocial studies of British working class citizens; they were visual documents of life during the era.
Brandt also photographed a series of female nudes which left us breathless. The audacity of Brandt's technique was spellbinding: he positioned legs, arms, breasts, feet and fingers in intertwined positions and photographed them from a close range, often on rocky sea coasts. The photographic outcome was mesmerizing since the figures appeared not as anatomical parts, but as abstract forms contrasting against the jagged forms of the rocks and cliffs and the horizontal horizon. The photographs were modernist masterpieces; I was surprised they were not nearly as recognizable as Alfred Stieglitz's nude photographs of Georgia O'Keefe.
The next exhibits we ventured through were The Street and The Store by Claes Oldenberg, located on the sixth floor of the museum. The Street consisted of massive 3-D objects constructed by Oldenberg of material such as newspaper, burlap and cardboard, all of which were found on the streets of the Lower East Side. Artworks on view included Street Sign II, a cardboard imitation of a street sign and the ubiquitous Street Chick (Hanging), a burlap and cardboard sculpture of a Lower East Side regular who Oldenberg replicated in medium after medium. Oldenberg claimed the exhibition was "an imitation of life," a 3-D re-presentation of people and objects symbolizing the neighborhood he lived in.
Oldenberg's The Store consisted of colorful artworks constructed of muslin. Like the works in The Street, the works in The Store reflect everyday city life; however, these works were more literal and whimsical in nature. Pepsi-Cola Sign, Men's Jacket with Shirt and Tie and Cigarettes in Pack hung on the walls formed in what appeared to be amorphous fragments dripping in paint resembling graffiti. A giant hamburger, an ice cream cone and a slice of cake sat on the floor. We could not help but giggle at the cartoonish and humorous oversized delicacies, which suggested a childish humor and curiosity inherent in the artist. When Oldenberg first crafted these works in the early 1960s, he exhibited them in an actual storefront he rented in the Lower East Side. If Oldenberg's fantastical oeuvre was entertaining to experience in a museum, surely it must have been comical to see in an actual storefront.
Last, but not least, schedule enough time to visit the Rain Room, adjacent to the West 54th Street entrance. This incredible interactive exhibit utilizes rain, sensors and the human body to create a dream-like, magical experience beyond anything I can describe. I will say only this: no umbrella is required.
I walked away from MoMA as if I had just left Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. Although many of the artworks on display demanded thoughtful reflection, the major exhibitions were humorous, whimsical and downright fun. Make sure to download the new MoMA App to your iPhone/iPad to receive information on Current and Upcoming Exhibits, Film Schedules and Mobile Tours.
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