January 29, 2010  |  Design, Events & Programs
Anything but a Guidebook

An unusual approach is one of the key strategies that signal an ideological shift.

When approached by Francesca Rosenberg to design the Meet Me publication for MoMA’s Access Programs, we were given three criteria:

1. Must use hot-pink color. (I’m not kidding. If you know Francesca Rosenberg, MoMA’s Director of Access and Community Programs, you would know that this is a legitimate request.)

2. Don’t make it look like a guidebook (even though, in its essence, it is a guidebook).

3. Make the content accessible to three diverse audiences: museum professionals, care organizations, and individual families.

The unusual color request was just one sign of how MoMA’s Access Program educators were contributing to an ideological shift in the way both institutions and individuals think about Alzheimer’s disease. This was not going to be just another black-and-gray manual. The intention was to create a book that was uplifting in both function and form, focusing on the fact that life can still be meaningful and joyful for these families, a book that embodies the mission and focus of the Meet Me at MoMA program. This was going to be a book about inspiring meaningful interactive experiences, making connections between people and art, and making art accessible. It would be anything but a guidebook. Read more

January 28, 2010  |  Artists, Collection & Exhibitions
The Drawings of Guy de Cointet

Left: Guy de Cointet. We must not think that cold… 1982. Ink and pencil on paper, 20 x 25 5/8" (50.8 x 65.1 cm). Committee on Drawings Funds. © 2010 Estate of Guy de Cointet. Right: Guy de Cointet. I can’t wait… 1982. Ink and pencil on paper, 21 x 14 3/4" (53.3 x 37.5 cm). Committee on Drawings Funds. © 2010 Estate of Guy de Cointet

The artist Guy de Cointet (French, 1934–1983) was fascinated with language, which he explored primarily through performance and drawing. His practice involved collecting random phrases, words, and even single letters from popular culture and literary sources—he often cited Raymond Roussel’s Surrealist novel Impressions of Africa as influential—and working these elements into non-linear narratives, which were presented as plays to his audience. Paintings and works on paper would then figure prominently within these performances. In his play At Sunrise . . . A Cry Was Heard (1976), a large painting depicting letters bisected by a white sash served as a main subject and prop, with the lead actress continuously referring to it and reading its jumble of letters as if it were an ordinary script. His drawings likewise are almost readable but just beyond comprehension.

Acquired for MoMA’s collection in May, these two drawings are strong examples of de Cointet’s scriptive compositions, which, alongside abstract forms, are reduced to algorithmic visual codes rather than narrative sentences. In these two particular works the artist meticulously reversed the direction of the inscriptions, a technique more commonly known as “mirror writing.” One must hold the drawing up to a mirror in order to read it—a performative act that was not lost on de Cointet. Building upon this mirroring technique, he further obscured the texts in these two works by altering their orientation as well: I can’t wait… has to be rotated once to the left for the text to be legible, and to read the text in We must not think that cold… one must turn the drawing upside down. Once deciphered, the texts read as snippets of mundane conversations, such as “I can’t wait! But first I’ve to wash my hands.” In other instances sentences are cut off mid-word, as in “work of their dis-,” only to have a new line of text begin below, leaving it up to the viewer to complete the sentence.

De Cointet is now recognized as one of the major figures in the Conceptual art movement that emerged in Los Angeles in the 1970s, having strongly influenced a number of prominent artists working in southern California today, including Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley, for whom both drawing and performance figure significantly in their artistic practices.

January 27, 2010  |  Collection & Exhibitions, Film
Lights, Camera, Exhibition: Making Tim Burton

Installation view including Sandworm Jaws prop from the feature film Beetlejuice (1988)

I like to compare the process of organizing a large-scale museum exhibition like Tim Burton to the process of producing a film. (What can I say, I’m a film person!) You start with an idea, and then research the subject as if you were writing a script—in the case of a gallery show, this means determining what art, objects, media, and documentation are available, and how they can most effectively be used to tell a “story.” Ideally, you want your interpretation of the materials to seem fresh and relevant to a contemporary audience. Typically you negotiate for the loan of materials to your show from various archives around the world—sort of like signing “stars” to a film—and then work with teams of exhibition designers, graphic artists, lighting technicians, A/V folks, carpenters, and so forth to bring your show to life in a gallery, just as the director and producers collaborate with a production department on the lot of a film studio during the making of a movie. Read more

January 26, 2010  |  Rising Currents
Rising Currents: High Stakes

Left: Long cylindrical palisade cells, the primary site of light absorption and photosynthesis, are found just below the upper surface of a leaf. Image courtesy University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Life Sciences; Right: A merged GIS-based model of the New York-New Jersey Upper Bay, emphasizing the fluid continuity of topography and bathymetry. Deepest areas are indicated in dark blue, highest elevations in green. © Palisade Bay Team: Guy Nordenson and Associates, Catherine Seavitt Studio, and Architecture Research Office

Catherine Seavitt, AIA LEED AP, is the Principal of Catherine Seavitt Studio in New York and co-author, with Guy Nordenson and Adam Yarinsky, of the book On the Water: Palisade Bay.

As one of the authors of the 2007 Latrobe Prize study On the Water: Palisade Bay, the backstory project that led to the development of the MoMA Rising Currents workshop and exhibition, I often get asked the question, “How did you come up with the title Palisade Bay?”  It’s a three-part answer. Read more

January 26, 2010  |  An Auteurist History of Film
Buster’s Planet

Sherlock, Jr. 1924. USA. Directed by Buster Keaton

These notes accompany the program Buster’s Planet, which screens on January 27, 28, and 29 in Theater 3.

Joseph Francis “Buster” Keaton (1895–1966) began appearing in his family’s vaudeville act at the age of three. Charles Chaplin made his first stage appearance at five. Psychologists can have—and have had—a field day tracing all kinds of problems to this lack of an ordinary childhood in the cinema’s two greatest comedy stars. The simple fact, perhaps, is that they loved to perform and make people laugh. Buster, whose nickname has been attributed to Harry Houdini, followed in Charlie’s footsteps, entering films in 1917 (four years later than Chaplin) under the tutelage of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. Read more

January 25, 2010  |  Artists, Collection & Exhibitions
Joan Jonas: Synchronicity of Old and New
Yokohama Tobacco Shop

Tobacco shop in Yokohama, Japan. Photo: Azby Brown

At the moment Joan Jonas is on a residency at Kita-Kyushu in western Japan. She has worked in Japan several times since her first visit in 1970, when she bought a portable video camera and began her exploration of media art. The immediacy and reality of video entranced Joan. It was so unlike the stark artificiality of traditional Japanese theater. There, the actors moved at a glacial, mesmerizing pace across a spare stage, and the productions, often stretching over an entire day, made time dissolve. The formality and ritual of Japanese performance became integral to Joan’s work, as can be seen in Mirage, the installation currently on view in the Media Gallery. She wrote that Noh and Kabuki, the two poles-apart forms of traditional Japanese theater, taken together contain every idea that has ever been realized on a stage. Read more

January 22, 2010  |  Events & Programs
The Communicative Power of Art
Gordon Sasaki, MoMA Educator, leads a Meet Me at MoMA program

Gordon Sasaki, MoMA Educator, leads a Meet Me at MoMA program

One of the reasons I enjoy working in Access Programs at MoMA is that we get to experience things with our program participants that other visitors would like to do, but can’t. For instance, visitors who are blind and partially sighted have the opportunity to touch sculptures on display in the galleries and in the Sculpture Garden. Who wouldn’t love to get their hands on an original bronze bust by Picasso or Matisse? Another bonus for Access Programs participants is that many of our programs are scheduled on Tuesdays, when the Museum is otherwise closed to the public. Ah, to be in a room with Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night and not have to dodge the crowds!

This is exactly the situation when we hold our monthly Meet Me at MoMA program, an interactive gallery tour for people with dementia and their care partners. During these ninety-minute sessions, the Museum becomes theirs, and the quiet galleries are the perfect setting for MoMA’s educators to lead the individuals in the group in sharing their thoughts and interpretations of artworks from MoMA’s collection or special exhibitions. The stimulation and socialization that are fundamental to the MoMA program not only help to improve behavior and mood, but also dramatically improve quality of life. I have experienced numerous situations in which people come to MoMA in a non-communicative, anxious, or withdrawn state. For many, a transformation occurs in the galleries. Art can tap into old memories. It was in front of Marc Chagall’s I and the Village that a man with Alzheimer’s disease shared a story about the cemetery where his mother is buried, information that his wife had never been aware of. Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie led another man to talk about his days as a single man enjoying the nightclubs in New York in the 1940s—just like Mondrian himself. Other comments reveal how the art stimulates the participants in the here and now. For example, a woman with dementia spoke insightfully about how the colors and light in Claude Monet’s Water Lilies were inviting and joyful to her. After leading many art programs with people with dementia, I have seen firsthand that satisfying emotional and intellectual experiences are possible on both sides of the care partnership.

We wanted to share these meaningful experiences and results with a broader audience, so Museum educators worked with Graphic Design and Digital Media staff to develop a publication and website that would reflect the experience of the Meet Me at MoMA program. These resources also provide additional information in the form of interviews with experts in the fields of art, aging, and Alzheimer’s; findings from our evidence-based research study; and guides for developing and implementing art programs in a variety of settings.

I encourage you to take a look at the site!

January 21, 2010  |  Artists, Collection & Exhibitions
R.H. Quaytman’s Storage Rack: An Archive of Images and Associations

R. H. Quaytman. Iamb: Chapter 12, Excerpts and Exceptions, with Painting Rack. 2001–09. Silkscreen ink, oil paint, and gesso on wood, and wood rack, dimensions and installation variable. The Museum of Modern Art. Purchase

Last year MoMA’s Department of Painting and Sculpture acquired R. H. Quaytman’s Iamb: Chapter 12, Excerpts and Exceptions, with Painting Rack, a work comprised of six paintings, made between 2001 and 2009, set inside (and to the side of) a shallow wooden storage/display case. Two of the paintings were on view in Quaytman’s beautifully installed 2009 solo exhibition at the Miguel Abreu Gallery; the others joined the group in the artist’s studio before coming to the Museum. In general, I find Quaytman’s work to be complicated, but complicated in a completely satisfying way—this is especially true of Iamb: Chapter 12. Some of the panels in the set are minimal, such as an off-white gesso panel interrupted by four vectors; others maximal, like a panel displaying a silkscreen of John Martin’s mezzotint Heaven—The Rivers of Bliss (1824–25). The visual asynchronies of the series are undermined by a unified palette of whites, blacks, and half-tones, and by their placement within the rack, with the works’ absolute proximity to one another forcing a focused consideration of likeness. Read more

Lessons from the Bauhaus
Eugen Batz.  Exercise for color-theory course taught by Vasily Kandinsky.  1929-30. Tempera over pencil on black paper. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin

Eugen Batz. Exercise for color-theory course taught by Vasily Kandinsky. 1929–30. Tempera over pencil on black paper. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin

The exhibition Bauhaus 1919–1933: Workshops for Modernity finally comes to an end next week. As a final event of the various public programs we have offered in conjunction with the exhibition, we will present a symposium this Friday, January 22, entitled Before and After 1933: The International Legacy of the Bauhaus. The event will bring together a vast array of international scholars to talk about the remarkable diaspora of Bauhaus intellectuals that, following the school’s closing in 1933, spread throughout various parts of Europe, the Americas, and even Africa, contributing to the establishment of a modern design style and branching out into various pedagogical models and practices that to this day lie at the core of the curricula of art and design schools worldwide.

Here at MoMA—both among staff members and those who came to the related public programs and workshops—we are also left with plenty of food for thought regarding the enduring legacy of that famous school. Read more

January 19, 2010  |  Rising Currents
From a Grand Finale to the Next Phase

Open House presentations at P.S.1 on January 9, 2010

With a grand finale—attendees filled the room and spilled out into the hall—the five teams presented their final designs to the public at P.S.1 on January 9. As the teams now begin producing materials for the upcoming exhibition at MoMA (and the MoMA team begins preparing the space and the explanatory glue around the project), Rising Currents enters a new phase. Over the next few weeks a number of expert guest bloggers will add their perspectives on an experiment that challenges both the city as we have inherited it and the format of an architectural exhibition in an art museum. The quality of design, innovation, and intense teamwork that has characterized the last two months at P.S.1 has been nothing short of remarkable. The level of interest from city, state, and federal officials has been deeply encouraging and the surge of interest from the public has been spectacular. This week a jury will convene at P.S.1 to pick the finalists for the eleventh annual Young Architects Program (YAP). YAP is an integral part of our department’s programming and while the Rising Currents project is similar in some ways, it is worth noting that it is a true innovation for MoMA and P.S.1, and we believe in some respects, for architecture museums in general. Read more