Tales from New York City: The MoMA Addition

Ok, so even for me that last post felt a little morose. I swear I started with the idea that I was going to do a recap blog about my experience in New York City, and that is not what came out. I guess the heart wants what the heart wants… Anyway, my trip to New York was awesome. I spent time with two of my very favorite people, saw a lot of really cool things, and ate a lot of really great food.

I drove up to Kristin and Adrian’s the night before and spent the night, which is always a good time. Then we took a bus out of Nazareth, PA the next morning, which was surprisingly cheap and easy. It took about an hour and forty-five minutes to arrive at the Grand Terminal. The ride was scenic and the conversation superb. Not to mention they indulged my need for Starbucks…

When we got to the city something very interesting happened to me. Now for most of you who know me, you will probably not believe this: I did not feel the need to take control. I did not immediately assess the situation and figure out where to go or what to do. We were standing in the middle of the metro trying to figure out how to buy passes and which track to board from, and I was completely cool with Adrian and Kristin taking charge. I don’t know what it is about the two of them together, but I just didn’t feel the need to figure it out or take over the trip. I just let them lead me around. And you know what? It was freaking liberating. I had the most relaxed and wonderful day as a result. I’m hoping I can take this feeling and apply it to other aspects of my life. I think my stress level would only continue to decrease as a result. Maybe I just need to hang out with them more and learn their Zen ways.

The main “purpose” of the trip was to visit the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art). I was super excited about this because I’ve been to a lot of art museums in the United States and in Europe, but I’ve never been to the MoMA before. Kristin planned the trip because they were featuring a Diego Rivera exhibit. Seeing Diego Rivera’s work was wonderful. I didn’t realize that his time in Europe working on frescos so directly impacted the medium in which he worked and became famous for. I knew about the ill-fated project he had worked on for the Rockefeller’s and its ultimate demise. I had a general sense of his aesthetic, his political views, and his impact on Mexican culture and art – you know – the basics. But I guess I never really put it together how large and immovable his pieces were.

Instead of using plaster, he used a more modern material: cement. This made his work tremendously heavy and difficult to move. The curator of the exhibit did a wonderful job of displaying this to maximum effect. There was an xray of one of the pieces on display. You could see how the blocks were held together with wire and larger pieces of metal x-ing the entire piece as a reinforcement. Then the original art was viewable from both sides, suspended inside a wall. It was all very impressive.

His roots to Communism and his commitment to and love of the proletariat was evident in each piece. Also, although his fresco work has been criticized as being “flat” (due to the nature of the frescos being observed up close instead of high up on a wall or ceiling as is traditional), I found the pieces vibrant and expressive. I liked the distinct shapes of the people as they represented each aspect of the working class’ struggle against the rich and powerful. Although much of the fresco work on display depicted scenes of violence in the forefront, I found the characters in the back of the pieces equally compelling. Overall, I felt like I came away from the exhibit with a new respect for Diego Rivera and his work.

The MoMA was also featuring a Cindy Sherman retrospective. I will admit that before this trip I had never heard of Cindy Sherman. I have picked up a great deal of art history as a hobby. And I’ve certainly learned a lot through my work at the Mattress Factory and the State Museum, but there are definitely holes in my education – as I’ve  never studied art history formally. I’m specifically ignorant when it comes to photography. For those of you who are like me, here’s the skinny on Cindy Sherman. She is an amazing photographer, and an artist who is widely considered one of today’s premier contributors to the field of contemporary art. She takes photographs of herself as different personas. She uses makeup, prosthetics, and costuming to metamorphosize herself into completely different people. The contrast between pictures is such that one might never realize that they were looking at the same person. She portrays women with all their complexities: with all the beauty and grotesqueness that is placed on women by accepted social norms and by themselves.

Her most recent series portrays women in different stages of the aging process. At first glance, one might see a typical portrait. But at a closer look, and certainly when seen together with the whole series, it becomes clear that there is an underlying panic behind the eyes of what should be a confident woman. Each piece subtly shows a different way in which women try to forestall the wheels of time. Whether it’s with clothing, makeup, cosmetic surgery, or a chosen activity, it’s made clear that none of these women are comfortable in their own skin. I found the work both tragic and compelling. Certainly, an apt portrayal of the modern woman’s plight in a world that is ever-focused on youth and attractiveness.

The M0MA is an amazing building. We saw a lot of other art, including a new print exhibit and some of the permanent collection. About three hours in, however, we were all pretty tired. There’s only so much one can take in before it becomes a blur. I would definitely recommend the experience to anyone who has an appreciation of art. Modern Art is not just paint splattered on the wall; it’s a reflection of where we are as a culture. Even if you don’t appreciate a particular piece, even if you question why it’s there, then realize that it has fulfilled its function. Because when you deny that it is art, you have fundamentally defined what art means to you in that moment. Take note of what that is, because that will undoubtedly tell you as much about yourself as it does about what you are looking at.

As a side note, the MoMA gift store is awesome. I picked up a set of coasters for Ben (I felt bad he couldn’t come along, and also he’s always looking for coasters in our house). They are made of cork and shaped like pieces of bread. They came in a little bread bag and only cost $10.00. There were a lot of really cool “artsy” household and kitchen items. I had to show some major restraint while in there, so be forewarned.

More to come: The American Girl Store!

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