Monday, February 11, 2008

New Museum

This post was written Sunday but I didn't post it and I can't be bothered to go back and change the references. Anyway, I went to the New Museum on Saturday.

This week has been one of big decision: blog or play Zuma, eat or play Zuma, go out or play Zuma. Anyway, today has turned cold and nasty and I was planning to go to a CardioSculpt class at the gym but I think I'll just hide in my apartment instead and order delivery from Yummy House. We've actually closed the windows which is not a normal winter action in Casa Paper Boats because building management cranks the heat up something wicked.

Anyway, yesterday it was much nicer out, although a touch rainy, so I went to see the New Museum which has recently moved to Bowery in a pretty eye-catching new building. I was a bit hesitant because while there is certainly is contemporary art that I like, I tend to have an aversion to work that seems far more focused on the concept than aesthetics or craftsmanship and it looked to me like this show would be pretty heavy on that. Which is was. It's not that I'm not interested in concept but I also don't think that it should automatically be favored over being visually interesting and appealing or finely crafted. And more often than not I think the concept is fairly inane or cliche and/or could better be expressed through another medium. And then what are you left with?

Backtracking though. I really like the building from the outside. It's unique and modern looking but at the same time they've done a great job of making it fit on the Bowery. The appearance, particularly from a slight distance, is both gritty and quite beautiful (and I totally love the "Hell, yes!"). The inside is wonderful for displaying art, with large open rooms, skylights, and a rawness that doesn't distract from the art.

After buying my ticket and checking my coat, I took the steps up to the 7th floor where they have an observatory with a "panoramic view" open on weekends. Now, it's neither the most scenic of locations nor the most scenic time of year, but a room with a view is a room with a view.

I then stopped in to look at the education center on the 5th floor but I wasn't sure what that was all about. It looked like they were showing what was on exhibit on other contemporary art museums around the world.

In a stroke of luck, I ran into a free tour just beginning and tagged along with that. Listening in on the tour gave me a chance to hear a bit about both the building and the current exhibit, "Unmonumental." We stopped to look at some things on the tour that I really enjoyed and some things that I really didn't. The clump of buoys hanging together? I tried to understand and appreciate, truly, but I failed pretty utterly. I mean, I open to being convinced otherwise, but I had a hard time understanding how the connection between what the tour guide told us about the artist and the artwork itself made it much more than a bunch of scavenged buoys. Setting that aside though, there were several artists whose work I really enjoyed so I'd like to mention a couple of them here.

For me, the movement and grace of Myth Monolith elevate it above a collection of seating and into a much more enjoyable piece of art. There's a lovely balance to it and your eye moves naturally from one end, up over the arch, to the other end. The texture and pattern of the various chairs creates visual interest as does the complex shadow the structure casts on the wall.

I'm also interested in how this piece works with the "Unmonumental" theme. When you look at it you automatically think of other arches, from the Gateway Arch in St. Louis to the Arc de Triomphe to--this being New York City--the arch in Washington Square Park. The form itself is monumental and has been used to memorialize greatness for millenia, and yet Marc Andre Robinson is using it to create a work of art that is both small and domestic.
And yet, this arch too has a memorial quality, in that it is made up of materials that once served a different purpose. They're chairs that perhaps once stood in someone's living room or beside their kitchen table, that cats once curled up on or that were tilted onto their back legs by the people sitting on them. There's a history there and the chairs carry that history into their new form. But they don't do so in a permanent manner. Instead of stone and steel he is using wood and cloth, things that are no longer doing what they were meant to do and have instead taken on a transitory quality. Anyway, I'm not sure quite what to make of it but I do think it's very interesting.

Whew, I think I just wiped out my critical capacity right there. I'm tempted to just mention the next artist and say, "his work was my favorite," and leave it at that. You guys, I'd be such a shitty critic.

My favorite work in the exhibit was Matthew Monahan's, whose pieces actually do have a bit of a monumental quality to them. Liberator's Retreat, at right, looks quite solid from the front with its larger than life size, the broad torso, long arms, and heavy head.

Like Robinson, though, Monahan is taking a monumental form and subverting it. The monumental quality is undermined by both the materials--wax, wood, styrofoam?--and the fractured grotesqueness that he incorporates into the work. It has bit of a Frankenstein's monster feel to it, no? From the back the seeming solidity of the figure disappears and it seems quite frail, held together with bits of wood. While I don't want to read to much into it, it seems to me the work makes a point about the illusion of immortality in monumental work. Monuments, in honoring a person or place or event, seek to memorialize them for posterity. We build them to last "forever" and in return they tidily allow us to write a certain kind of history and remember things a certain way. Monahan's works in this exhibit seem to call that practice into question.

There were several other pieces I saw and found fascinating, although I was so hungry by the end of my visit that I did rush through a bit more than I would have liked. I think it's a show that's well worth going to and if you're in the New York City area you should give it a look-see.

On a sidenote, while stealing some of these images from a The Showbuzz slideshow, I happened across a picture of Sean Avery at the opening of the new building. Seriously, it's bad enough that I have to see that loathsome scuzzball play hockey from time to time, I really don't need him mixed in with my art viewing as well. I mean, that's just nauseating.

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