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Posts Tagged Malevich

I recently took a trip to the upper east side of Manhattan to visit the Guggenheim and Jewish museums. The Jewish Museum was awesome the Guggenheim was awful...here's why:

A glance at a successfully curated museum experience

I began at the Jewish Museum to see the Alias Man: The art of reinvention exhibit. This exhibit was easily one of the most well curated exhibits I've seen in a long time. It was well thought out presenting Man Ray's work in a relatively chronological order, hooking it to the artist's biography and world events allowing the spectator to understand the 'why' of the art with considerable ease. The text accompanying the exhibit was well written, so well written in fact that it almost stopped traffic flow as even I (like many others) read to find out what came next in this artists life. Artworks that were relevant to one another, were presented together leading visitors to draw conclusions on their own (what I like to call 'ahh ha' moments).

In my opinion the curation was flawless, but more importantly it was accessible. The visitor did not need a fancy pedigree or a background art history or philosophy background to understand the core tenants of why Man Ray's work was important. There was no need to struggle for understanding or focus, this made it easier for myself (and I'm sure many other visitors) to remain receptive when viewing works such as The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse1 an object (we don't know what kind of object) wrapped in cloth and bound with string. Artworks like this often turn people off of art, but in this exhibit the sterile, unfeeling, lack of thought was stripped from the object. It was presented in context with Gift2, one of my personal favorites, the juxtaposition of the objects I felt helped with understanding: it was much less object in the center of a white box without a plaque fuck you we normally see in museums.

For me the reason I loved this exhibit is that I could tell that a lot of though and effort went into sharing Man Ray's legacy with the public in a way that allowed ANYONE from the public to understand. I could feel the love and passion of those who worked to create this exhibit and their passion to share that with the museum's visitors. It was very delightful.

A glance at a museum experience gone wrong

My delight at the Jewish museum I fear may have lead me to expect the same from the world renowned Guggenheim Museum. After waiting in line for 15 minutes in front of the most annoying and pretentious European pricks I finally was inside the museum. The line inside the museum to get tickets was non-existent. Instead the bevy of potential ticket holders loitered around not knowing who was next to make a purchase. I usually can overlook chaos at a museum's entrance but this seemed slightly more ridiculous than usual.

Once I was in the ground level I could see the Tino Sehgal3 performance in the center: a couple making out. This performance was awesome, in fact it may have been my favorite thing I saw all day. As I wound my way up Wright's spiral I noticed a shocking absence of something relatively important in an art museum: ART. The spiral was void of the very thing it was intended to display. I am not entirely sure why this is, I am not so secretly hoping this absence is actually part of an idea or artwork that I completely missed (if so please let me know), in any case I felt cheated.

If you've been to the Guggenheim before you'll know that each level of the spiral has galleries off the main path. These galleries each contained different exhibits. I want to tackle them each separately since I was disgusted by each for different reasons. PLEASE NOTE: The museum was crowded, loud, and frustrating to begin with -- my disgust and inability to feel at ease really made a poor experience even worse.

Malevich In Focus: 1912-19224

First off, the lighting in this gallery was terrible, secondly the Guggenheim took arguably one of the least accessible (and possibly most innovative) artists of the first half of the 20th century and failed to explain to someone who has never seen Russian avant-garde why Malevich was one bad ass dude. Great, I'm a first time visitor who has never seen Malevich before, what the hell is this guy doing with all of these red and black triangles and squares? Further more even if there were placards explaining all this (and there were a few, the ones I read were boring as hell and not exactly my idea of well done) I would not want to read them since it was a space that was way too small and poorly lit. It was clear that this exhibit was not designed for the general public but for the art history buffs, who not only know what Cubisim, Italian Futurism and the Russian avant-garde are but can write an essay outlining their importance to modernism.

Paris and the Avant-Garde: Modern Masters from the Guggenheim Collection5

There is no disputing that the Guggenheim has an awesome permanent collection, but the title of this exhibit lead me to have a few expectations:

  1. The fact that the exhibit is centered around Avant-Garde artists who worked in the same city (Paris) leads me to believe that I will learn something about which of these artists influenced each other, spent time together or better yet despised each other.
  2. Since these artists were working in the same city, I would expect at least one pair of paintings by two separate artists depicting the same Parisian subject matter in different ways. They're all working in the same city, surrounded by the same things: I want proof.
  3. I want to know what was so avant-garde about these paintings (I know, but I want the average Joe to know too: I'm tired of explaining to Grandma why Norman Rockwell is not a better painter than Marc Chagall or Pablo Picasso)
  4. Tell me why they're masters, these paintings are obviously important as they are owned by the Guggenheim -- but nothing has been done to convince me why their works are important or why these men (there may have been a woman in there, but I didn't notice any) were masters.
  5. As a museum nerd I really want to know where these pieces came from, why they were purchased and more importantly some cool facts about them. The Guggenheim as guardian of these works must have the most complete history, and know the full importance of each of these works, they should share that: I paid $18 for you to tell me.

Needless to say, none of these expectations were met.

Anish Kapoor: Memory6

In the time I was at the museum I saw one piece (a gigantic piece) by Kapoor called Bombay, it was cool, but if there was more than one piece there was no apparent way to get to it, see it and there certainly weren't any signs pointing to it. I was surprised because I honestly expected Kapoor's work to adorn the spiral. I was disappointed.

Contemplating the Void: Interventions in the Guggenheim Museum7

Possibly the most accessible exhibit at the museum due to designer/artist/architect documentation of their submissions to this exhibitions, but the exhibit read something like my high school art show. I am unsure of how much I like this, on one hand it was not pretentious and therefore much more approachable. On the other hand there were no names next to the artists work -- instead the visitor had to pick up a newspaper like pamphlet (super awkward format for a gallery setting, and the supply was running low when I grabbed mine) and match the number next to the piece with the number on the paper to see who the piece was created by. For the love of God I don't want to play a game of match-the-numbers when I am looking at art, save that shit for kindergartner worksheets and multiple choice tests. More importantly save yourself the hassle of printing multiple copies of the same thing when you could make one damn copy and hang it on the wall. What were they thinking?

Why the Guggenheim should install an enormous 'Fail Whale' sculpture in their lobby

Some museum experiences are successful, my experience at the Guggenheim just pissed me off -- here's why:

  1. Doing something as simple as getting a ticket should never be a cluster-fuck. I don't care about waiting in line, just don't make me wait in line only to be fed into a loitering group of apathetic hipsters who don't know where the hell to go next.
  2. If you are a museum, you should display art -- the absence of art in an art museum can only be interpreted as two things: 1.) Someone hasn't done their job and needs to be fired, 2.) an artistic statement that will only be understood by those who write the art theory books...the average tourist from Nebraska will likely not get it (no offense Nebraska, I'm sure you're awesome)
  3. I don't want to guess at why an artist created something nor should I need to pick up the poorly design fugly audio guide device to figure that out. Give me a brief well written description so that I don't need to listen to a 5 minute long audio track to get the information I could have gotten by skimming a description in 10 seconds. Seriously, Guggenheim....cut it out with the audio guide only bullshit.
  4. I came to a museum, so don't display work like a high school art show or make me play match-the-number. Grow-up Guggenheim, you're people get paid to do a job, make sure they're doing it and doing it well.
  5. The day I visited lack of diversity in the visitors was appalling, the Guggenheim should be ashamed. Where was the color? Where was the different point of view? Where were the people reminding me that museums are there to serve the community not just a segment of society? It was sad.

Avoiding the fail whale is easy

Museums should make their art accessible to the general public, this begins at the ticket line and carries all the way through to the placement of artworks and artwork's documentation. In short, I shouldn't need to be an over educated ass to understand art, it's importance or why I should care in the first place.

FOOTNOTES
  1. Man Ray, The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse, 1920/1971. Object, felt, and string. Approx. 13 3/4 x 23 5/8 x 13 in. (35 x 60 x 33 cm). Collection of Marion Meyer, © 2009 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
  2. Man Ray, Gift, 1958 (replica of 1921 original). Painted flatiron and tacks, 6 1/8 x 3 5/8 x 4 1/2" (15.3 x 9 x 11.4 cm). James Thrall Soby Fund. © 2010 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.
  3. The New York Times review of the Tino Sehgal Exhibit
  4. Malevich In Focus: 1912-1922 Exhibit Page
  5. Paris and the Avant-Garde Exhibit Page
  6. Anish Kapoor Exhibit Page
  7. Contemplating the Void: Interventions in the Guggenheim Museum Exhibit Page
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