Friday, August 15, 2008

Two Shows at MoMA That Don't Involve Salvador Dalí or Pre-fab Housing

Posted By on Fri, Aug 15, 2008 at 11:00 AM

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The L's Benjamin Sutton saw two shows at MoMA that don't involve Salvador Dalí or pre-fab housing. I was like, Ben, want to write about these two shows at MoMA that don't involve Salvador Dalí or pre-fab housing, for the blog? And Ben was like, yes, I would love to write about these two shows at MoMA that don't involve Salvador Dalí or pre-fab housing, for the blog. So he wrote about these two shows at MoMA that don't involve Salvador Dalí or pre-fab housing, for the blog, and you can read what he wrote about these two shows at MoMA that don't involve Salvador Dalí or pre-fab housing, on the blog, now.

Sure, shows about crazy mustachioed Basque surrealists and homes made in factories are interesting (seriously, Home Delivery and Dalí: Painting and Film are great exhibitions), but they're also perpetually packed and difficult to enjoy after the first half-hour MoMA opens its doors (at 10:30am Wednesday through Monday). Two less-popular (and more brainy, weird...) exhibitions well-worth your crowd-ducking moves at MoMA these days deal with very specific artistic production at fairly specific times and places.



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The newest is the just-opened Looking at Music (through January 5, 2009), an exploration of (mostly) American multi-media art beginning in the 1960s with the sudden wide availability of audio-tape recorders, portable cameras and electric guitars. A wall-sized projection of a close-up on John Lennon smiling benignly (filmed by Yoko Ono in 1968) greets visitors and bluntly states a recurring theme in the show: the intermingling of rock and roll and early video artists in America's 60s and subsequent avant-gardes. Accordingly, several music video-looping TVs occupy the show's second room (featuring The Beatles' "Penny Lane" and Bowie's "Space Oddity" [pictured above] among others), and an accompanying screening series features a plethora of brilliant short films set to hot tunes both classic and recent. There are also collections of envelope-pushing music sheets and indie magazines from modernist musicians and composers that will certainly thrill the music theorists in the audience. Multi-media videos and installations are the bread and butter of this show though, so Laurie Anderson's "Self-Playing Violin" (1974) (pictured), standing staunchly upright as if saluting gallery-goers while it solos , is a particularly fun entry (especially when one reads that Anderson used to accompany the violin on another instrument in live performances). Meanwhile, Joan Jonas's "Organic Honey's Visual Telepathy" (1973), a video of the artist performing a variety of roles for the camera while donning a series of masks and peering into mirrors, questions how one performs in everyday life and to what extent the camera undermines those performances. It's an effective exercise, boiling ideas Altman, DePalma and Romero have spent entire films (careers?) addressing down to a clever shorthand. Works from the likes of Nam June Paik, Jack Smith, Bruce Nauman and John Cage round out a dense and (thankfully) small crash course in the seminal early works of multi-media and mixed-media art.

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The second easy-to-miss but not-to-miss show recently opened at MoMA, Kirchner and the Berlin Street (through November 10) looks at Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's densely creative period in Berlin between 1913 and 1915. The core of the show is a series of large-scale portraits of sex workers on Berlin's streets, rendered in an incredibly jagged and enchantingly colorful aesthetic. To one side of the central series we see smaller drawings and prints (some studies for the larger works, others stand-alone pieces) taken from the period that feature similar subjects from Berlin's bustling nightlife and streetscapes. At the dim gallery's opposite end are works from Kirchner's previous period in Dresden as a member of Brücke (a group of Expressionist painters he co-founded). Taken as a whole, the show is an argument for Kirchner's contribution to German Expressionism, and for the vitality (and daring) of this phase in his career. The style of the works clearly falls under the umbrella of "Expressionism", but it's also starkly individual, Kirchner's highly-developed distortions evoking a bustling city's rich street life, under whose elegant fashions and urban rituals a not quite covert brand of salesmanship (saleswomanship, really) thrived. In one work, "Potsdamer Platz" from 1914 (pictured), a war widow dons a veil while walking leisurely, announcing her mourning but also her availability to all those she passes (a frequent practice in post-WWI Berlin, we are told). His recurring choice of the liminal sex workers as subjects also intimates Kirchner's isolation in the big bad city, experiencing a rich public life that is nonetheless deeply isolating. So head to MoMA and avoid the cattle lines of alienating crowds and find some gems in these satisfying, intimate exhibitions.

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