One of my first experiences with modern art came when I worked in Worthington and spent late nights with my co-worker and friend John Brewer. As we watched Heat and Casino over and over and ended the evening with drinks and conversation, John worked on or displayed his art. John is a man of many talents — great writer, respectable juggler, outstanding chef and amateur artist. One of his projects involved cans of Coke and toilet paper rolls.
It was art, he announced, and I bought the argument, as did his future wife. Our friend Cheri, though, didn’t accept his declaration and the two engaged in some spirited debates about the Coke project.
On Tuesday I made my first trip to the Museum of Modern Art and I wish Cheri and John had been with as numerous exhibits would have sparked arguments between the two of them about whether or not what we were looking at was actually art.
The MoMA’s been in the news the past few days for an unusual exhibit that features unusual actress Tilda Swinton sleeping in a box.
Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to watch Swinton snooze but she’s going to drop in to the museum a few more times throughout the year. If you’re in the city and see on Twitter or elsewhere online that she’s taken up residence again, check it out. Because…it’s art? And because it will be a story to tell.
The first thing I actually saw Tuesday? Video games? The museum recently opened a new exhibit featuring classic games like Tetris and Pac-Man. Tecmo Super Bowl is not yet on display, but anyone who ever saw Vinny Testaverde loft a 110-yard pass or Bo Jackson run for 450 yards in a game knows that it was the most artistic game of them all. One of the cool displays in the applied design section was a wind map, which you can see at about the 25-second mark of the video.
For me, the highlight of my two-hour tour was seeing Edvard Munch’s The Scream, which is only on display until the end of April. According to the MoMA’s website, “Of the four versions of The Scream made by Munch between 1893 and 1910, this pastel-on-board from 1895 is the only one remaining in private hands; the three other versions are in the collections of museums in Norway. The Scream is being lent by a private collector.”
It wasn’t this crowded on Tuesday, though there were some younger visitors impersonating the painting while having their picture taken. The MoMA is nowhere near the size of the Met, which I’ve visited several times but still has numerous exhibits I’ve never seen, so I did manage to hit the items on my must-see list. Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans? Yes. Warhol’s Gold Marilyn Monroe. Yes. Jackson Pollock? Yes. Monet’s Reflections of Clouds on the Water-Lily Pond were unfamiliar to me — sorry, my art knowledge is sorely lacking — so that proved to be one of my favorite works.
In the same way I’m not as familiar with art history as I should be, I’m also someone who doesn’t always understand it or needs it explained to me. When I’m looking at paintings or sculptures, I’m reading every word that’s printed on the card next to the piece. Take John McCracken’s The Absolutely Naked Fragrance.
A pink plank.
According to the description, “The work’s interaction with both the floor and wall is meant to call attention to the space occupied in the gallery by both viewer and object.” I stared at the plank for probably 10 minutes; no one else was near the exhibit. I don’t always understand art, but I felt like this was art, and not just because it was in one of the most famous museums in the world.
But we need someone who actually knows art and knows how to talk about it to give an overall view about modern art. From my friend John, the Coke and toilet paper roll artiste. Consider this a mini guest post.
“I think art is best understood not as the actual object itself, in isolation, but as the relationship between the creator, the object and the observer. There is some meaning for the artist creating the object, and there is meaning when an observer reacts to the object. Sometimes knowing a bit about the artist can also affect the observer’s reaction. When all three click, it can give a Coke can with a toilet paper roll a meaning greater than a bored drunk guy watching a gangster flick and sticking a bunch of shit together (an assemblage). In Cheri’s case, she wasn’t feeling my vibe.
For me, art is something that has a soul to it, something that has been worked on by a person or persons. A paperclip isn’t art to me. But a paperclip bent out of shape or into a recognizable shape is approaching art. The intent is what makes it art.
Or something.Either way, when you’re in NYC, check out the MoMA. It’s something.