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The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Halloween at my high school was never boring. The classic 1980 movie Fame was inspired by NYC’s La Guardia HS, and was pretty accurate: you would indeed hear gospel singing in a music room above you during homeroom, see young actors heatedly rehearsing scenes in the hallways, and the art students—ah, the art students. I knew them well as I was among them. Some were mind-bogglingly prodigious, and perhaps as a result, Halloween proved to be a way to show off the skillz that would surely later in life pay the billz. Case in point: Tristan Elwell’s costume one year.

When I saw the above photo again after lo, so many years (please also note the existence of not one, not two, but three mullets behind Tristan), I felt the inevitable surge of nostalgia, and also a sense of synchronicity. The Magritte exhibition had just begun, and as such my head was full of green apples and bowler hats.

I found myself wondering what other Magritte-ian things were out there. As it so happens, Anne and Danielle, the curators of Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926­–1938, had already done their own Internet searching and found several clever and charming things like this:

Hilary B Price, Rhymes with Orange, “Magritte Arrives Home”

Hilary B. Price, Rhymes with Orange, “Magritte Arrives Home

And this:

Of course, people aren’t only riffing on The Son of Man.* The Treachery of Images (This Is Not a Pipe) is equally well-known, if not more so.

In fact, even the cover of the book I was reading at the time happened to reflect this beloved painting.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks, 2011 Picador Edition, cover illustration by Paul Slater

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks, 2011 Picador Edition, cover illustration by Paul Slater

But I have to admit this last one, inspired by the spooky and haunting The Lovers, is my favorite of these. Not as spooky and haunting as the real thing, but not exactly a laugh riot, either, these parking lot lovers managed to create their own work of art. And as we all know, Plastic Bags Are Not a Toy. How riskily romantic of them!

Michael Kauffmann, The Lovers, 2012

Michael Kauffmann. The Lovers. 2012

And then I stumbled upon Andrea K. Scott’s article in the New Yorker, in which she declared “Magritte’s art has been hijacked…from the Beatles’ record label to a Volkswagen ad to a bowler-hat light fixture.” Hijacked is a strong word, Ms. Scott! After all, Magritte’s art isn’t the first to inspire inventive takeoffs.

See a few more Magritte tributes on our recently launched MoMA Tumblr.

* Son of Man is not on view in MoMA’s current exhibition, as it was painted in 1964, after Magritte’s breakthrough years. However, The Lovers and The Treachery of Images (This Is Not a Pipe) are.

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Revealing the Mystery of Magritte’s Materials and Techniques
From left to right: Conservators Michael Duffy, Anny Aviram, and Cindy Albertson, and Curator Anne Umland in MoMA's Paintings Conservation Lab with René Magritte’s The False Mirror, The Palace of Curtains, III, and The Portrait

From left to right: Conservators Michael Duffy, Anny Aviram, and Cindy Albertson, and Curator Anne Umland in MoMA’s paintings conservation lab with René Magritte’s The False Mirror; The Palace of Curtains, III; and The Portrait

In his polemical 1938 speech “La Ligne de vie (Lifeline),” René Magritte spoke of his “objective representation of objects,” claiming that, “In my view, this detached way of representing things is characteristic of a universal style in which the manias and minor preferences of the individual no longer play any part.” Read more

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September 4, 2013  |  Soundings: A Contemporary Score
Altered States of Sound
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Cover of Soundings: A Contemporary Score, published by The Museum of Modern Art

The 16 artists featured in Soundings: A Contemporary Score treat sound as material. Much in the way many painters explore subjective interests through the material properties of paint and pigment, these artists manifest their philosophical and political concerns through sound (though not necessarily always audible). Read more

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August 22, 2013  |  Soundings: A Contemporary Score
Tracking Bells through New York (and Trying Not to Make a Leap Like Quasimodo)

A Bell For Every Minute is a sound installation, originally commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. It was first installed on the High Line from June 2010 through June 2011. The finished composition consists of 59 bell recordings which ring together at the top of the hour and then individually each minute after that from five speakers. I still regret that I didn’t do more to document the people I met at the sites where I recorded each bell and their stories. When I hear the piece, there are moments of conversation that come back to me—the ladder we were handed in Central Park to climb up to stand next to the monkey statues who ring the bell as the kangaroo, penguin and elephant rotate around; the nun at St. Paul’s Chapel who went out into the rain with me and said very little; the man at the Buddhist temple who suggested that my assistant and I might want to get high and really listen to the vibration of the temple bell sometime.

The first time I visited the High Line was with Meredith Johnson from Creative Time, before it was open to the public in early 2009. There was still graffiti everywhere and the feeling of visiting an industrial ghost town.

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. 5-channel sound installation with aluminum sound map. Commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. Location photo for a project originally commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. 5-channel sound installation with aluminum sound map. Commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

Stephen Vitiello. World Trade Center Recordings. 1999. Photo by Johnna MacArthur

When I was up there, besides being freezing cold, I thought of the sounds that might have once been present, the clanging and ringing … and then was brought back to a memory of the very first sound I heard through my window-mounted microphones when I was in residence in the World Trade Center in 1999—church bells from some unseen spot in the city.

I decided to create a piece for the High Line that would allow me to investigate bells all over New York, from religious cultures to maritime bells, sporting arenas, bars, and whatever else might appear.

Once I began, I tried to take a photograph of each site. The photo that most often gets used to represent the project is from Herald Square. The structure that includes the bell is called “Minerva and the Bell Ringers.” I almost passed over that site. I kept thinking it would be too noisy to record in midtown and couldn’t imagine what sort of bell would be there. I came to the park on a freezing cold day. Two men were sleeping on benches. The automated bell ringers struck on the hour. At the end of the recording, just as the bell fades, I can hear someone saying, “Hey, who took all my rubber bands?” Random bits of city sound and city people become part of the memory. An accident of oral history.

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. 5-channel sound installation with aluminum sound map. Commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. Location photo for a project originally commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

Soon after I began the process of recording, there was an article in one of the newspapers that a bell from Coney Island’s Dreamland Amusement Park had turned up. Dreamland had burned down in 1911. In recent years, a diver had been looking for remnants of the amusement park off of the piers of Coney Island and he had come up with the original bell that weighed several hundred pounds. The bell was “on view” under the Cyclone. It was presented in the Coney Island History Project’s small shack for two weeks before going into a private collection. I was given the chance to record it. The guys in charge screamed at visitors and those passing by to quiet down so I could record the bell.

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. 5-channel sound installation with aluminum sound map. Commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. Location photo for a project originally commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Saul Becker

The bell remained in great condition. Only the clapper had rotted. That night, after Coney Island, I visited my friends Saul and Kristen Becker. Kristen was the architect for the project. Saul helped me with some of the site-visits. Their cat, Boots walked by, with his collar jingling and the discovery of my next recording was revealed.

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. 5-channel sound installation with aluminum sound map. Commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. Location photo for a project originally commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Saul Becker

I recorded at more than one temple and honestly can’t remember which one it was that offered the potentially psychedelic experience. This photo below is from the Mahayana Buddhist Temple in Chinatown:

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. 5-channel sound installation with aluminum sound map. Commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. Location photo for a project originally commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

This one was at my sound engineer, Bob Bielecki’s house in upstate NY but never made the cut:

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. 5-channel sound installation with aluminum sound map. Commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. Location photo for a project originally commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

In late September 2009, I was invited to come to St. Paul’s Chapel, to record the Bell of Hope. This bell was a gift to the U.S. by the Lord Mayor of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is wrung every September 11. I came to the Chapel on a rainy Sunday morning, not sure who I was meeting. Eventually, a young nun came up and introduced herself to me as Sister Precious (at least as I remember). She took me out to the courtyard. She hadn’t said anything to begin and I originally imagined it would be a short ring of the bell and a run for shelter. Instead, she rang the bell for nearly three minutes, smiling kindly the whole time. The longer it went on, the more I could hear the bell as it resounded, filling the courtyard and filling the space beyond the gates of the yard and out to the streets which had politely quieted down just for that moment. In my installation, which is now in MoMA’s Sculpture Garden, you hear an edited version. I thought this would be a nice moment to include the original file, just as it was played.

Other locations included the Delacorte Music Clock in Central Park,

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. 5-channel sound installation with aluminum sound map. Commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. Location photo for a project originally commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

the New York Stock Exchange,

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. 5-channel sound installation with aluminum sound map. Commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010.Location photo for a project originally commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

and the Goof Stuff Diner in Union Square.

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. 5-channel sound installation with aluminum sound map. Commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. Location photo for a project originally commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

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The Sublime Imaginings of Architectural Drawing
Filip Dujardin, Untitled from the series Fictions. 2009.  Pigmented inkjet print, 43 5/16 x 61" (110 x 154.9 cm). Gift of Andre Singer. © 2013 Filip Dujardin/Highlight Gallery

Filip Dujardin, Untitled from the series Fictions. 2009. Pigmented inkjet print, 43 5/16 x 61″ (110 x 154.9 cm). Gift of Andre Singer. © 2013 Filip Dujardin/Highlight Gallery

I find there is something wonderfully sublime about architectural drawings, and lucky for me, as the preparator for the Department of Architecture and Design, I get to see a lot of them, particularly when the curators prepare a new exhibition of works from the collection like the current installation Cut ‘n’ Paste: From Architectural Assemblage to Collage City. Read more

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Making the Rain

Rain Room‘s conception was swift. We were coming up with ideas for dropping an image from above, so each individual pixel would fall into place, using water on water-reactive ground. Read more

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Henri Labrouste’s “Precision and Liberty”
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Cover of the exhibition catalogue Henri Labrouste: Structure Brought to Light, published by The Museum of Modern Art

French architect Henri Labrouste (1801–1875) may not be an instantly recognizable name, yet he is one of the most influential precursors of modern architecture. Most well known for two luminous library reading rooms built in Paris in the 1800s, the Bibliothèque nationale de France (1838–50) and the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève (1859–75), Labrouste has been long admired by both modernists and postmodernists for his innovative embrace of then-new technologies, like cast iron and gas lighting. Read more

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Artist’s Choice: Trisha Donnelly Gets an Extension and a New Visitor

Taking in computer-chip diagrams in Artist's Choice: Trisha Donnelly

Taking in computer-chip diagrams in Artist’s Choice: Trisha Donnelly

I’ve got some fantastic news to share: we recently extended the exhibition Artist’s Choice: Trisha Donnelly—it will now be on view in our fourth- and fifth-floor collection galleries until July 28. Read more

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April 22, 2013  |  Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925
Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925: Contemporary Artists Discuss Selected Works

Throughout the run of Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925 (December 23, 2012–April 15, 2013) we invited contemporary artists to pick a work and say briefly what they find most compelling about it. Read more

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April 17, 2013  |  Artists, Current Exhibitions, Publications
Reconsidering Bill Brandt
Cover of the exhibition catalogue Bill Brandt: Shadow & Light, published by The Museum of Modern Art

Cover of the exhibition catalogue Bill Brandt: Shadow & Light, published by The Museum of Modern Art

MoMA’s new book Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light by Sarah Hermanson Meister, curator in the Department of Photography at MoMA, is a fresh look at the work of an iconic British photographer. The exhibition currently on view isn’t the first time MoMA has presented Bill Brandt’s work to the public—the last Brandt retrospective was in 1969. Since then, the Museum’s perspective of Brandt’s work has evolved into a more complete consideration of the nuances and variations in Brandt’s own photo-historical approach.

Brandt’s photography is traditionally presented in thematic groupings at the artist’s own request, but this view alone simplifies a body of work that is multifaceted and far-reaching in style, influence, and subject matter. Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light is the most comprehensive overview of Brandt’s work to date, and it attempts to create a coherent trajectory across five decades of his career.

Beyond the 160 tri-tone reproductions of his photographs, the book features a rich appendix that illuminates different aspects of Brandt’s oeuvre. A section on Brandt’s photo-stories from 1939 to 1945 reproduces spreads from the publications in which they originally appeared, and a detailed survey of his methods for retouching his photos is especially fascinating in today’s world of digital cameras, smart phones, and instant photo filters. Brandt often spoke about how important the retouching process was in his work, and by looking at the various tools and techniques he used to edit and perfect his final images, photo conservator Lee Ann Daffner’s illustrated glossary dives deep into Brandt’s working process. As discussed in a prior INSIDE/OUT post, Dating Brandt, the same negative can look completely different depending on when Brandt retouched it.

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Sample of Bill Brandt’s published photo-stories in the exhibition catalogue, Bill Brandt: Shadow & Light. The photo-stories are organized chronologically to suggest the breadth of Brandt’s artwork


Though his influences, subject matter, and technical approach shifted over his long career, Brandt never lost what Meister describes as “his obvious delight in the uncanny aspects of the everyday.” Her introductory essay opens with a quote from Brandt on the role of a photographer:

I believe this power of seeing the world as fresh and strange lies hidden in every human being. In most of us it is dormant. Yet it is there, even if it is no more than a vague desire, an unsatisfied appetite that cannot discover its own nourishment….This should be the photographer’s aim, for this is the purpose that pictures fulfill in the world as it is to-day. To meet a need that people cannot or will not meet for themselves. We are most of us too busy, too worried, too intent on proving ourselves right, too obsessed with ideas, to stand and stare.

Bill Brandt took the time to “stand and stare” in many different ways. Whether through juxtapositions of class structure, wondrous nudes, inventive portraiture, or unearthly landscapes, Brandt’s far-reaching inspirations and approaches generated arresting imagery that still holds magic and wonder today.

Left: Bill Brandt. The Pilgrim’s Way, Kent. 1950. Gelatin silver print, 9 x 75⁄8" (22.9 x 19.4 cm). EHG. © 2013 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd. Right: Bill Brandt. Francis Bacon Walking on Primrose Hill, London. 1963. Gelatin silver print, 91⁄4 x 71⁄2" (23.5 x 19.1 cm). Collection David Dechman and Michel Mercure. © 2013 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

From left: Bill Brandt. Francis Bacon Walking on Primrose Hill, London. 1963. Gelatin silver print, 91⁄4 x 71⁄2″ (23.5 x 19.1 cm). Collection David Dechman and Michel Mercure. © 2013 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.; Bill Brandt. The Pilgrim’s Way, Kent. 1950. Gelatin silver print, 9 x 75⁄8″ (22.9 x 19.4 cm). EHG. © 2013 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.


For more on Brandt’s expansive career, preview a free PDF sample of the exhibition catalogue.