Monday, July 23, 2007

moma beta

Having recently written a piece about the foolishness of asking a question like "What is (insert genre tag)?" I wasn't really holding my breath on the sixth-floor of the MOMA, at an exhibit entitled "What is Painting?". I mean, there was still the powerful Richard Serra exhibit to attend to, his Sculpture Garden pieces sizzling in the sunlight. And last time I was at the MoMA, the curation wasn't so hot.

Separated from the process of the work itself, such artistic investigating by artists is usually a fruitless endeavor (for a similar parallel, see that section of Paper Thin Walls when musicians rate other musicians, handing out 10.0s and 9.5s like Halloween candy and shouting "Yay Everything!"), and in the initial rooms, I was underwhelmed. Each room revolved around a theme (portraits, color schema, painting/ not painting) that seemed trite in its organization. Who I did recognize seemed to be poorly represented, the paintings by no-brainers Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter, and Chuck Close feeling perfunctory at best.

With each successive room though, the work grew stronger, and most surprisingly, the paintings that reverberated the most were also the most recently rendered. I became giddy at the work done by heretofore unknowns as Wade Guyton, Gabriel Orozco, Elaine Reichek, Shirazeh Houshiary, and Beatriz Milhazes. While most exposure to modern art radiates process, color wheel, and long-stewed theory first and foremost, their work exhibited here thankfully answers the question proposed by eschewing it completely and making it moot. The work exuded a real sense of play and discovery.

Playing "Fort" at the Richard Serra exhibit.

Such giddiness and playfulness poured over into the Richard Serra exhibit. How does his overwhelming work not strip away all postures of human importance, of control, of adulthood? Walking through Band, Sequence, and Torqued Torus Inversion, all recently rendered works, I became as a child again: my body weak, wobbly, uncertain of the world surrounding. Dwarfed by 20 foot tall slabs of weathered steel, you can't help but be cowed by their demands. As knee-buckling as El Duque's curveball, or else like an inner-ear affliction, the viewer becomes unbalanced, disoriented, shrunk, helpless.

Such sensations lead to a freedom though. I am a child again, gazing in wonder and seeing the infinite in rusted industrial metal. In the way that Serra's formative early work suggests such possibilities (who else could make lead look so at ease, light and graceful?), I find myself at play among such immensity. My friend and I play "Shoot 'Em Up" amidst the stoic slabs of Equal-Parallel: Guernica-Bengasi, bounce our throats off of the reverberating contours of Band, delighting in the echoes and decay. The curvature and contours appear to be conquerable; inviting but ultimately untenable. Despite not partaking in such recreational activities, I find myself wishing that Serra would get out of the art world and instead draft some monochromatic first-person shooters or else design impossible skate parks.