Tuesday, June 2, 2009

And they all look just the same

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.

When I was younger, I used to visit MoMA on my own a lot. I was fascinated by the pop art, the sculpture garden, the luxuriant tropics in the Gauguins and Rousseaus, the cubist pieces and the surrealist pieces and the beautiful Water Lilies room. I loved the idea that all of these wonderfully different approaches to presentation and representation were art, and that they could all coexist in a limited collection unified only by their recency and their significance.

MoMA was a relatively small museum in those days. The layout was quirky, but felt like it had been designed to perfectly fit and spotlight the art on display. It was easy to pop into for an hour to see all my old friends on the walls, or spend a little longer slowly losing myself in the impressionist paintings.

10 days ago, on the 5th floor of the massive rebuilt MoMA, I wanted time and space to mourn the loss of that museum. It was an insanely crowded Friday evening, and the couple of hours we had allotted were clearly not going to be enough time to see more than a fraction of what was on display. And what was on display was no longer edited. Paintings were not arranged thoughtfully within most of the galleries. The galleries had no clear focus, organization, or progression, and the gallery spaces were just a series of impossibly dull rectangular boxes, all alike. The collection felt uncurated and the architecture within the galleries felt utterly inartful.

Many of my old friends were on the walls, scattered around this ticky tacky maze. There were some new wonderful pieces as well—century-old Russian cubist paintings that I’d only seen in books, a new Sol LeWitt wall installation, plenty to please my visual palate if I didn’t mind the clutter of all the dozens of unappealing and uninteresting paintings. But I do mind the clutter. My favorite bookstore ever was Zembla Books, a tiny shop outside of Davis Square 15 years ago whose owner had filled the small space with books I wanted to read and almost nothing else. That was the MoMA I knew, and had hoped to return to. I found WalMoMArt instead.

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