MOMA is the world's first, and still the world's best, museum devoted to modern art; defined as art from the late 19th century beginning with Impressionism to now. Walking through there is like walking through an art history textbook. There are so many very famous and momentous works of art from the last 150 years filling its permanent collection.
MOMA, like the L train, is always crowded. This last Thursday, it was a little less crowded than usual; probably because of the Jewish holy day combined with the end of European vacation season.
Except for a few historical pictures, these are all my photos. As always, everyone (especially educators) is welcome to take anything that they see useful here.
a work by El Greco that he saw in private collection in Paris (and is now in New York uptown at the Metropolitan Museum). The staring faces of these figures, and the very simplified planes of the one on the left, may reflect the influence of ancient Iberian sculpture which Picasso saw in the Louvre. All of these ancient influences inform a painting that Picasso hoped would fulfill Baudelaire's criteria for a "painter of modern life," making a rich and powerful art out of modern experience.
Picasso was still seeing the soon to be discarded Fernande Olivier while having a secret affair with Gouel.
In the 1930s, Picasso had another secret affair while he was married to the ballerina Olga Khokhlova. Picasso was 45 at the time he began the affair with the 17 year old Marie Therese Walter. He would have a daughter, Maya, with her. The affair was very intensely sexual and inspired a host of paintings and sculptures. Most were about his sexual passion for this girl. Others, like this painting, expressed his barely suppressed anxieties about being devoured by the objects of his sexual passion.
It is wonderful to see this painting properly installed again. When MOMA re-opened after the latest rebuilding, this painting hung in the huge new atrium diminishing its size. The very poor lighting in that huge room made this magnificent painting look like mucus.
This is from that period of crisis and experiment in Matisse's work where black comes back to his palette and plays a big role in his pictures, and where they begin to become more abstract. This is almost certainly due to the influence of his young rival, Pablo Picasso, whose work made Matisse seriously rethink his own.
If you look closely, you can see Matisse's hand holding a palette with his thumb sticking through the hole.
So much of modern art before World War II is about great expectations, about a hoped for better tomorrow. Russian artists around the time of the 1917 Revolution worked with an almost religious fervor to give form to a new world of science and technology rising out of the middle of a country that was still largely medieval. Rodchenko made sculptures out of construction materials rather than traditional stone or bronze. He constructed his work rather than carved or cast it. Instead of standing still on a pedestal, this sculpture hangs from the ceiling and is moved by air currents. As in a Cubist painting, there is no more clear boundary between the object and its surrounding space. They are continuous with one another.
Rodchenko intended works like this to be the preliminaries to design; the seed from which new types of architecture, furniture, machinery, etc. would emerge.
A very dramatic work of abstraction even though drama was the last thing Rodchenko wanted.
The title is an acronym for the Russian phrase for "Project for Affirming the New." This magnificent abstract collage made from industrial materials (plywood, cardboard, sandpaper, etc.) was Lissitsky's vision of a bold new world even as the future of the Bolshevik Revolution was in doubt in the civil war that followed the 1917 coup. Lissitzky studied architecture in Germany. This collage is not about imagery or stories, but like Rodchenko's hanging sculpture, it is intended to be a kind of seed from which new forms in architecture could grow.
The short-lived Russian avant-garde around the beginning years of the Soviet Union was the most advanced in the world in its efforts to merge design with technology and industry. Its influence around the world would far outlast it after Stalin shut it all down in 1930 and sent its artists and designers fleeing into exile, or had them arrested and shot.
I have little sympathy for utopian ideological movements, but the fervor and pioneering spirit in these earliest abstract works is hard to ignore. To my mind, some of these works at the very beginnings of modern design, remain some of the best and most exciting ever.
The Russians would have a huge international impact, especially in Germany where the architect Walter Gropius founded a new design school with the sponsorship of the Weimar government and German industrialists, the Bauhaus. In a country with a huge population of newly poor people, German industrialists and the German government were keenly interested in design for products that were cheap to produce in bulk and cheap to sell, that were designed with a vision of a technological future in mind.
MOMA devotes the entire 3rd floor to design and architecture from the late 19th to the 21st centuries. This is the most densely exhibited part of the museum; too dense in my opinion. There are so many wonderful things on this floor placed so close together that they begin to cancel each other out.
An oil painting collage very different in spirit from El Lissitzky's abstract collage. Schwitters collected the small detritus that modern Hannover in Germany shed every day like a snake shedding its skin. The memories and stories that these fragments conveyed about the life of the city fascinated Schwitters. He incorporated them into beautifully made Cubist inspired paintings like this.
It may seem a strange thing for a figurative painter to confess, but I am a fan of Mondrian's work. I don't think I fully appreciated it until I had something like classical training in art. His work is deceptively simple and does not always reproduce well. Those very spare compositions look like fabric pattern in reproduction when in fact they are completely painted, including the areas of white.
Many of his pictures begin with the Golden Section ("The Divine Ratio") first described by Euclid.
This painting is a beautifully elegant solution to a difficult compositional problem; how to make a relatively stable composition on an unstable form.
For all you Byzantinophiles, Mondrian's work is as deeply spiritual as any icon. He reduces our experience of the world to its most universal essences; the right angle of the tree against the level horizon of the sea. Mondrian believed that the spiritual lived and revealed itself in such universal essences. Mondrian's spirituality is Theosophy rather than Christianity.
This was one of Mondrian's last works before his sudden death from a heart attack in 1944.
Mondrian gets rid of the black lines and lets the 3 primary colors do all the work. He comes up with a brilliant evocation of syncopated rhythm.
For Mondrian, this is a remarkably improvisational painting. He cut out and moved squares of construction paper (as he is seen doing here) until he got something that he wanted. He would remove the construction paper squares and paint in their colors.
This very austere Dutchman loved New York. He arrived a war refugee, his studios bombed twice, first in the German invasion of the Netherlands and again in the London blitz. He was relieved and delighted to be so far away from the Nazis and the fighting. In New York, he discovered jazz and a love for going out dancing. That joy remains beautifully expressed in this very great painting.
I couldn't imagine sitting in such a thing for more than 10 seconds.
I love Gorky, what a great painter!
A beautiful counterpoint between color and line; a beautifully composed picture made up of abstract forms based on biology, suggestive of everything from microscopic life to flowers to genitals.
In a really fine label essay, MOMA points out that Minimalism from the 1960s and 1970s paralleled the height of the American automobile infatuation. The 60s and 70s were the age of the big powerful V8 engined luxury cars and muscle cars with their lovingly finished surfaces. The big simple shapes of Minimalist sculptures had brightly colored highly finished surfaces just like cars. This is a great example with its cherry-red glitter finishing. Minimalism was probably the very last modern art movement to revel in the machine aesthetic.
A work by the most famous of the Minimalist sculptors. Donald Judd wanted to de-personalize art, a last gasp of a machine aesthetic pioneered by the Russians 50 years earlier. Like the Russians, Judd wanted to end the distinction between art-making and manufacturing. Unlike the Russians, there is no great shining Utopian vision driving his work (something that some of us miss in late 20th century modernism, and a reason why some of us find so much of it academic and dull).
A big grand work by the most durable of the Minimalist sculptors. There is one big Corten steel plate above, and one below. It's the only piece in the museum with a label encouraging people to walk on it.