Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Narrative Over Form?

(view of MoMa's sculpture garden; courtesy of

(Marina Abramovic performance; courtesy of

Last Sunday the front page of the Arts & Leisure section in the New York Times featured an article by famed art critic Roberta Smith entitled Hold That Obit; MoMa's Not Dead, in which she muses about current trends in Contemporary art while discussing the state of New York's Museum of Modern Art since their sweeping renovation in 2004. She points out that the first several years following the completion of the $800 million Yoshio Taniguchi structure in which the MoMa now resides, visitors and members alike were unsettled and disheartened. She notes that they feared, "we were witnessing nothing less than a major museum's suicide by architecture." One of the major complaints was that the galleries were way too small and the major connecting hallways, ramps, staircases and lobby were not conducive to crowd flow and left something to be desired, as the atmosphere was overwhelmingly "sterile" and "corporate."

Smith goes on to explain the difficulties that the new space created for curators and visitors. However, the gripping portion of the article, and most pertinent to our lives here at the gallery, was her recognition of the museum's "complete disregard for contemporary painting." True, the tiny escalators that force you upwards as you travel into the depths of the galleries along with a thousand other viewers, are a pain. And yes, the lobby with its mobs of people purchasing tickets, meeting friends, and following tour guides, tends to feel more like a train station than a sanctuary of art. Not to mention the months during which a "blockbuster" exhibition is running, such as the recent Tim Burton which closed last April, when utter mobs descend.

Once safely inside the galleries however, you might be surprised at what greets you. If you have visited the museum on W. 53rd Street lately, and enjoy contemporary painting, but tend to feel daunted by performance art, you might have been let down. To many, including Smith, the latest trend in art towards shock-and-awe, with a lack of content and experience, are more often than not, frustrating and disappointing. As Smith so poignantly puts it, "superficial sensationalism" has taken center stage. And, perhaps this is a consequence of the society in which we live, which is increasingly "attention-deficient" and focused on consumption. I.e. the ideal audience for performance and video art that can be quickly absorbed and create a flutter of excitement. What does this mean for those of us who remain captivated by paint on a surface? If you can't get your fill at the Modern, or feel unfulfilled upon leaving a "blockbuster" exhibition at a museum near you, it might just be time to get out to your local galleries instead.

No comments: