Slowly whirling in space at the center of Lee Bontecou: All Freedom In Every Space, now on view on the fourth floor of the Museum, is a suspended sculpture that the artist created over an eighteen-year period from 1980 to 1998. In this remarkable galaxy of forms, the catalyst for the current exhibition, many of Bontecou’s greatest interests converge—in particular, her longstanding fascinations with outer space, flight, and the natural world.
“Thus there is in the life of a collector a dialectical tension between the poles of disorder and order,” philosopher and critic Walter Benjamin observed in his 1931 lecture Unpacking My Library. In the museum’s tidy spaces, where a predominant curatorial objective is to make sense out of the jumbled reality of things, this opposition between organization and chaos captures the imagination. As my colleagues and I begin to work with the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Gift recently acquired by the MoMA—highlights of which are currently on view in the Fluxus Preview exhibition on the fourth floor—Benjamin’s proposal repeatedly comes to mind. Read more
Sometimes, after I encounter a great work of art, I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. And that’s a good thing—the work touches and evokes something deep inside that lingers for months, even years. I had this experience when I first saw Nan Goldin’s The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, a 45-minute slide show of some 700 color pictures set to a soundtrack. Read more
I met with VALIE EXPORT about three months ago at MoMA when she came to New York to preview her friend Marina Abramović’s exhibition. It was a sunny morning in March, and we sat down outside the staff cafe sipping glasses of grapefruit juice and talking about her signature work, Action Pants: Genital Panic. Read more
Instantly recognizable and an iconic image in our culture, Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night is a touchstone of modern art and one of the most beloved works in the Museum’s collection. It draws thousands of visitors every day who want to gaze at it, be instructed about it, and be photographed next to it—yet few viewers are familiar with the story behind this unlikely masterpiece, executed during a tumultuous period in the artist’s life. Read more
We’ve taken a short break from writing about Claes Oldenburg’s iconic Floor Cake sculpture—currently undergoing conservation treatment here at MoMA—to prepare a lecture for last week’s annual meeting of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC), in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Conservators, educators, and scientists gather each year to discuss new types of treatments for works of art and to examine the effects of past treatment. Our presentation focused on the history of Floor Cake and its condition (please see our previous posts), as we have been working to conserve this unique and popular work for the past several months. Read more
During recent months, Fluxus has begun making waves in MoMA galleries. This past October, Fluxus Preview opened on the fourth floor and continues to provide a sampling of the diverse activities carried out by artists engaged with a rebellious approach in the 1960s and 1970s. Most recently, true to Fluxus’s irreverent sensibility, derrières—hundreds of female asses—have taken over a space on the third floor of the Museum. The work is Yoko Ono and George Maciunas’s Fluxus Wallpaper, which repeats black-and-white close-ups of a human behind from floor to ceiling.
A still from Ono’s Film Number 4 (Bottoms), this wallpapered image is of one of the (allegedly) 365 individuals who walked for the artist’s camera in London during the early 1960s. As Ono once described Film Number 4, it is “like an aimless petition signed by people with their anuses”—a collective mooning in support of the absurd. Maciunas took one of these signature back ends, possibly Ono’s own, and printed it in fashion that enabled the provocation to occupy any receptive surface.
The wallpaper is part of The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Gift, acquired in 2008. It is currently on display in conjunction with the exhibition Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography.
On Thursday, April 22, the MoMA Library and Esopus Foundation Ltd. co-hosted an evening celebrating the life and work of physicist-artist Bern Porter (1911–2004). I organized the event to breathe life into the books and other ephemera on display in the exhibition Lost and Found: The Work of Bern Porter from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art Library and to call more attention to this fascinating and under-recognized artist. Read more
One could say that Atsuko Tanaka is having a moment here at MoMA. Her untitled painting from 1964 is currently one of the most visible works on view at the Museum (situated above the information desk in the main lobby), and a recently acquired drawing just went on view this week for the first time at MoMA in the exhibition Mind and Matter: Alternative Abstractions, 1940s to Now.
Born in Osaka, Japan, in 1932, Tanaka was a member of the Gutai Art Association, the major experimental postwar Japanese art movement founded by a group of young artists in Ashiya in 1954. She was best known for sculptural installations made from non-art materials, such as Electric Dress (1956), a wearable sculpture made of flickering light bulbs painted red, blue, green, and yellow. When originally worn, the sculpture both made the body the center of artistic activity and masked it in a mass of light and color. This work, along with Work (Bell) (1955)—made of twenty electric bells connected by one hundred feet of electrical cord and a switch that viewers can press to activate a line of ringing sound—are prime illustrations of Tanaka’s interest in the application of intangible materials in art, namely electricity, and Gutai’s overall reaction to a modernizing Japan. Read more
I first made a studio visit with Sanja Iveković about ten years ago, when I was invited to organize a large-scale exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, Croatia. She impressed me instantly. I recall thinking, “This is an inspiring artist with whom I will forge a long-lasting relationship.” A feminist, activist, and video pioneer, Iveković came of age in the early 1970s, when artists broke free from mainstream institutional settings, laying the ground for a form of praxis antipodal to official art. Part of the generation known as the Nova Umjetnička Praksa (New Art Practice), she has produced works of cross-cultural resonance that range from conceptual photomontages to video and performance. Last month I visited Iveković again in Zagreb, this time to discuss her first survey exhibition in the U.S., which is scheduled to open at MoMA at the end of 2011. Read more