THE BLOG
10/28/2010 08:41 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

MOMA

For those who plan on seeing the exhibition Abstract Expressionist New York -- and I warmly suggest that you do, if you're anywhere within traveling distance -- I have one piece of advice: plan on seeing it three, or four, or five times. Or more. This is an incredibly rich and profound exploration of perhaps the greatest American contribution thus far to the history of art. The quality and number of works included is staggering. It's a genuine feast.
But -- and I say this advisedly, after my own intense few hours--abstract painting is especially demanding on the eyes and the brain, because it leaves you nothing but itself to hang on to. There's no "getting it," storing it in the mind, and moving on to the next piece on the wall. Each one is its own experience. Every single piece demands your sole (I first wrote, "your soul"! It does!) and rapt attention, if you're to anywhere close to "getting it." Take a look at this beautiful, early Jackson Pollock, for example...
... and you might see what I mean. (All the images are snapped with our little Canon, with apologies to MoMA and the artists.) It's a small piece, but it devours the eye and can keep it occupied for hours on end. Or this detail from a much larger piece...
Imagine now the full scope of the huge painting and what it requires of you. The same is equally true, though in a different way, of a deceptively simple painting like this one by Barnett Newman...
... one of many in the show. Or, particularly, a Mark Rothko...
... which does not even begin to work for you until you've done the work yourself, watching and waiting for the shapes to lose contour and float before your eyes, exercising their particular, ethereal magic on your mind.
So yes, absolutely, don't miss the opportunity to explore the depth and diversity of this great moment in our culture. But do what I regret to say I didn't do myself: go prepared to give it time and do the work. None of this gives itself up to you easily, without a responding effort on your part. It's like when you want to control your appetite and lose some weight: stop when you're full. And believe me, your mind will soon tell you that it's confused and bored with this stuff, once it feels satiated. I left wishing I had seen... less!
And after the great emotional upheaval of the AE show, the most moving moment at MoMA came, for me, just before we left, when we caught a glimpse of Yoko Ono's Wish Tree (this link includes her "Voice Piece for Soprano," also on view at the museum) and went outside into the sculpture courtyard. Here she has left a large bucket of blank, white tags, ball point pens and a writing desk, with the invitation for all to write their wish and attach it to a nearby small "wish tree." The tree is now heavy with the fruit of people's deepest wishes...
... written in every imaginable language and on every imaginable topic: "I wish my mom was still alive," "I wish I could pass my chemistry exam," and so on. The most frequent wishes were for world peace and happiness. John would have approved. I still miss that man, as I am sure Yoko Ono must do, a thousandfold...