Saturday, May 22, 2010

NYC #3 - MoMA: Willliam Kentridge, Picasso, Lee Bonecou, Marina Abramovic

I know everyone from DC says this, but still, it throws me: you have to pay for museums in NYC. Let me just say, it was so worth the $20 to get into MoMA. To avoid museum burnout (the glazed over eyes that no longer see), we only moseyed here and there, making no effort to see everything.  What I saw inspired.  If you're in NYC, go to MoMA.  Right now.

First, check out the William Kentridge exhibit. The sketches are riveting, many self portraits, and quite a few of another figure, a woman in glasses.  But the most absorbing elements of the exhibit are the short films. Some are animated sketches that grow in process to complete pictures, then evolving to other images, landscapes growing, figures marching with burdens weighing them down, disasters and wars in some movies, other more fanciful, e.g., trips to the moon. If you click on View Video in the link, you can see an example of what I mean. My favorite area was the room where eight or so different films played at once, some featuring the artist, some shapes in motion, all playing around with time and gravity (e.g., running film backwards so he appears to magically catch papers behind his back). The effect, if you turn slowly around in the room and catch bits of each film running all at once, is of being inside a busily creative mind, ideas flying in all directions.

It'd be wrong to go to MoMA and not see some Picassos.  So do that. There are the classic asymmetrical features-all-over faces of women that you would expect, along with more realist work. The range of his experimentation is stunning.  I was particularly curious about his prints, having recently learned more on the process from sorting Karen Laub-Novak's work. KLN, with her horsemen of the Apocalypse, would likely have enjoyed his progression of a print, each print adding another layer to create a more and more defined and complicated horse.

One piece that knocked me down, and was, in fact, the only photo I took while in the museum, was by Lee Bontecou.  According to the signage, she worked on it for 17 years. She has a focus on time, mechanical, and astronomy elements, so it's no surprise it appealed to me. It flew off in a many directions with wire and gold, dimly reminding me of the guitar strings in the the Ugly Mobile 1.0.

Lee Bontecou: Untitled

Finally, a performance art piece was in process at MoMA. Marina Abramovic sat on a chair in the middle of a large, cordoned off square across from another chair. Gallery patrons could wait in line to sit in silence in the chair across from her for as long as they felt like staying. When we arrived, one woman who had clearly been waiting for a while was walking out to sit in the chair. The vibe off her was almost hostile after a while, like a staring contest, trying to prove something. She was there for quite a while, as we circled the area, taking in other parts of the museum. After her, a dark-haired man sat in the chair, and his vibe was much more relaxed, sitting in companionable silence. It's hard to say how I know how I felt about the participants. Marina kept her face as expressionless as possible, and so did the participants, and yet they clearly put off differences that were easy to read. Everything was being filmed from several angles, so I'll be curious to see how she presents the expressions through the editing of that film. When I did a yoga teacher training, one exercise we did was sitting in silence and looking another person in the eyes for several minutes. It's a weirdly intimate experience, and as such, initially uncomfortable, and then too comfortable, as if you're now best friends forever with someone with whom you have only a passing acquaintanceship. It amazes me how we're wired for eye contact, body language, connection with our species, how we interpret what we're not even conscious of most of the time. As with lots of performance art, I did have the sense of this one taking itself just a wee bit too seriously – would it kill her to crack a smile, just for a moment? And what if she needs a break to go pee? How is that arranged amid all the silence? But at the same time, I found the concept, and for the most part, implementation compelling. Finding the links for this blog entry, I thumbed through some portraits taken of people that sat in the opposed chair. It did not surprise me to find that some people cried. Being present means being vulnerable. Hence, the piece's title, The Artist is Present...

For more information on Marina Abramović, click here.

1 comment:

  1. The performance art piece reminds me of a study they were highlighting on Discovery or a similar channel regarding human intimacy. A man and a woman that had never met before sat across from each other at a table in silence while looking one another in the eyes. I think it was only for 10 or 15 minutes. Afterwards, they were surveyed on their feelings for the person. In each case, they indicated feeling as though they knew the person well, as though they were closer to them than having just met a stranger 15 minutes ago.

    I think it was all in terms of the scope of attraction and chemistry, but fascinating all the same.