Tuesday, June 17, 2014


Lygia Clark (1920-1988)

I last visited the Museum of Modern Art about 50 years ago. That was when I got to spend an entire Summer with my grandmother on the upper east side - visiting museums every day.

I've been to NYC many times since --- but when time is limited, why go anywhere but the Met or the nearby Frick ?

I mostly remember it for Van Gogh's "Starry Night",  Monet's "Water Lilies", and Picasso's "Guernica"  - but lots has changed over the past 50 years - so I decided to pay it another visit.

The top floor is dedicated to special exhibits - so that's where I started - and was immediately attracted to the early paintings of Lygia Clark.  (there was also a Gauguin exhibit - but I've seen more than enough of him already)

Unfortunately, her early paintings are hard to find online. She's better known for her sculpture and then eventually her participatory performance art that marks her "abandonment of art"  - the title given to this exhibit.

But I liked her back when she was measuring and balancing pictorial space with simple, flat  geometric objects.   It feels so smart and sexy to me.

Moving down to the next floor, I'm rewarded with the real reason I came here: to see the early Modernists.

Last Fall, I fell pretty hard for Kandinsky's Campbell panels  (1914) when they were hanging at the Neue Galerie.

But I couldn't take pictures of them there -- and they need to be photographed -- close up - to remember the extreme care with which they were made.

Was Kandinsky on psychedelics ?  

It's as if he had left earth behind, and was living in another dimension of what appears to be endless desires and opportunities to exercise them. 

In contrast, we have the very earth bound Picasso,
sharing his enthusiasm for his favorite place: the brothel.

I remember seeing  Les Demoiselles d'Avignon - but I don't remember liking it this much.

And, as with the Kandinsky panels, the details are worth savoring

Chaim Soutine , "Man with a Green Coat", 1921

This painting entered MOMA in the 1990's, so it's not likely that I saw it 50 years ago -- but I sure like it anyway.

"Starry Night" is a real tourist attraction - with people lining up to have their pictures snapped in front of it.

So we joined the crowd.

But I remember liking it  more in 1965.  Indeed, I was disappointed with all of the Van Goghs I saw on this trip.  They seem to have lost their pop for me.  Perhaps this one suffers from being behind glass.

James Ensor, "Masks Confronting Death", 1888

Here's a painting that I now like much more 

It shimmers.

And that was it for MOMA.

I enjoyed a lot more on the fifth floor -- but in accordance with Chinese superstition,  floor number four was the realm of the dead..

What happened ?

A lot of American abstract paintings from the 1950's and 60's comes through Chicago art fairs and galleries -- and mostly I really like it.

But MOMA has a taste for disaster - the bigger the better.  Apparently, for them, the more firmly a painting prompts  the viewer to ask "Why am I looking at this?", the better the art.

This was my last trip to West 53rd St. in this lifetime.


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