Through examining four pieces in The Museum of Modern Art’s collection, one can better understand how John Cage’s embrace of indeterminacy can be traced in the period following 4’33″ (1952) and in more recent years, and how these later works play with the concepts of chance and the ephemeral in different ways. Read more
To the visitor, a museum might appear as a collection of objects. And it certainly is, a collection painstakingly assembled by generations of curators. But intrinsic to MoMA’s curatorial approach is the museum as a collection of ideas, represented by the objects (which convey concepts like abstraction, organicism, and postmodernism) and also communicated though the curator’s selection and grouping of objects. As curators, we are constantly identifying timely concepts worth exploring and representing through MoMA’s collection. Because design is a field often directly engaged with the technology and issues of its time, it demands a contemporary approach and interpretation. Our upcoming exhibition A Collection of Ideas presents several lenses through which MoMA looks at design and the contemporary world—significant areas of research that examine the connection between design and violence; the increasingly important field of interaction design; and the relationship between nature and the built environment, which demands urgent attention and redefinition.
“Organic Design,” the first idea explored in this installation, presents the most recent manifestations of a centuries-old quest—learning from nature how to build elegantly, economically, and sustainably. Organic design, influenced by natural forms and processes, has advanced very rapidly in the 21st century. Computer-aided design and 3-D printing technologies have enabled designers to emulate nature’s economies and building methods. Joris Laarman’s 2006 Bone Chair, for example, was designed using three-dimensional optimization software that mimics the generative process of bones to concentrate the object’s mass and strength in the areas that bear the most stress.
“Design and Violence” (also an online curatorial experiment at designandviolence.MoMA.org) seeks to comprehend the complex impact of design on the built environment and on everyday life, as well as the manifestations of violence in contemporary society. Designers aim to change the world around them—often in fundamental ways—and the consequences can be drastic when they overstep, indulge temptations, adopt abhorrent goals, or even simply err. The Museum’s Camcopter S-100 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, designed by Gerhard Heufler and Hans Georg Schiebel in 2004, is a drone originally intended for aerial landmine detection and eradication. Drones are design objects that have seen an upsurge in news coverage for applications that range from the hostile (as weapons of warfare) to the benign (as delivery vehicles for consumer products).
“Interaction Design” is another idea represented in the display of eight newly acquired videogames (from 1972′s Pong to 2011′s Minecraft), and by digital icons such as the ubiquitous Google Map Pin. The exhibition’s curator, Paola Antonelli points out that,”Interaction designers build the digital dimension of our lives, choreographing everything from the way we tap the screens of our mobile devices to our exchanges with ATM machines.” Our ever more digital world calls for interaction design that is aesthetically appealing, functionally and structurally ingenious, and innovative in how it approaches technology and anticipates user behavior.
These clusters of objects showcase not only new acquisitions and highlights from MoMA’s collection, but also timely categories of investigation and their representative design forms—new ideas and new approaches for the contemporary age.
If you visit MoMA’s exhibition There Will Never Be Silence: Scoring John Cage’s 4’33″, you will encounter a suite of enigmatic drawings by Fluxus-affiliated poet Jackson Mac Low, comprising swirling letters and seemingly nonsensical combinations of words. Although they seem like meaningless scribbles, the words are actually legible and meant to be read aloud. Read more
MoMA and Columbia University’s Avery Library recently made an acquisition sure to excite even the most casual architecture fans: the Frank Lloyd Wright Archive. In addition to many thousands of drawings, photographs, and ephemera, this collection includes over 60 models and building fragments. One of the largest and most expansive models is that of Broadacre City—Frank Lloyd Wright’s utopian reimagining of the city as open space and landscape rather than skyscraper and skyline. Read more
The important role played by women in 20th-century art history remains a fertile field of study. Many historians, curators, and critics have focused their attention on great artists—Frida Kahlo, Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, for example—and on countless others who are lesser known but also fascinating. Read more
Rauschenberg affixed the bald eagle onto a canvas that would eventually become Canyon (1959), one in a series of radically experimental works he called Combines, which mixed paint and other art materials with things found in daily life. In Canyon, a seemingly incongruous variety of objects surround the eagle, including a photograph of Rauschenberg’s son, Christopher; a postcard of the Statue of Liberty; a man’s white shirt, cut and opened up; a crumpled tube of paint; fragments of printed words; and an industrial metal drum.
Rauschenberg: Canyon, the latest volume in the MoMA One on One series, sheds light on the genesis of this startling and enigmatic work by tracing the artist’s education, influences, and travels through Italy, Morocco, and Spain. Rauschenberg first started using found materials while attending Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina, where every student was required to pitch in with community labor. Rauschenberg volunteered for garbage collection, and ended up incorporating the objects he found in his classmates’ trash into his art. The hybrid creations he began producing in the mid-1950 with recognizable, everyday items offered a defiant counterpoint to the quintessential American style of Abstract Expressionism that prevailed at the time. As he wrote in his earliest statement on the Combines, in 1956: “I consider the text of a newspaper, the detail of a photograph, the stitch in a baseball, and the filament in a light bulb as fundamental to the painting as brush stroke or enamel drip of paint. In the end, what one sees as my work is what I choose to make with no guarantee of enlightenment, humor, beauty or art.”
Canyon, currently on view at MoMA in Ileana Sonnabend: Ambassador for the New, had been in gallerist Ileana Sonnabend’s personal collection since she purchased it from the artist the year it was made. Sonnabend was one of Rauschenberg’s lifelong champions, and her support played a significant role in his becoming the first American artist to be awarded the grand prize at the Venice Biennale, in 1964. Following her death in 2007, her heirs entered a curious debate with the IRS regarding the work. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940 made it illegal to buy, sell, barter, or possess a bald eagle in the U.S. Canyon was allowed to remain in Sonnabend’s collection because Rauschenberg had provided a notarized statement saying the bird had been stuffed by one of Roosevelt’s Rough Riders before the laws’ passage, but because it could not be sold, the family’s appraisers had valued it at zero. The IRS disagreed, ruling that it was worth far more, and assessed an estate tax and penalties on the heirs. The resolution they reached allowed the family to donate the work to a U.S. institution in exchange for dropping the tax claim. Thus, in 2012, Canyon was generously donated to The Museum of Modern Art, where it joins five other Combines, to provide an in-depth representation of this key aspect of Rauschenberg’s career.
To learn more, download a free preview of Rauschenberg: Canyon by Leah Dickerman.
Ileana Sonnabend: Ambassador for the New is the catalogue published to accompany the exhibition of the same name currently on view at MoMA. Both are a tribute to art dealer and gallerist Ileana Sonnabend (1914–2007) for her taste and enduring influence. Read more
John Cage first visited Black Mountain College, in Asheville, North Carolina, in April 1948, while on his way to the West Coast with choreographer Merce Cunningham. Though he only stayed in Asheville for a few days—premiering his composition Sonatas and Interludes—the visit proved formative. Read more
Isaac Julien: RIOT is not your typical exhibition catalogue. With most of the writing done by artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien himself, it is more like an illustrated intellectual biography. Read more
As indicated in the previous posts in this series, MoMA paintings conservators and conservation scientists have been studying five Magritte paintings for the past two years in preparation for Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938. Read more