So I finally made it into New York. It only took me a year. Just a day trip with my sister so we figured we’d hit MoMA and FIT. The last time I visited MoMA was when it was in Queens in 2002 while the new building was being built. I only got to see the highlights of the collection then. I enjoyed being able to wander through more of it now.
There’s no need for me to write about the full collection since it’s pretty much a primer of what you should see and know when it comes to Modern Art. Seeing the iconic pieces in the flesh is always fun. As is getting the additional depth around each highlight. However, discovering other pieces which aren’t on the must-see list is what makes a museum visit especially enjoyable.*
*For this trip it was Lygia Pape who caught my eye.
Unfortunately, there’s no real equivalent to this kind of setup with the photography galleries. The photography gallery was smallish and seemed to be a rotating exhibit space. No sense that there’s a set of definitive highlights which should always be on display. It was also distinct from the main attractions in the museum where you have to sort of go out of your way to see the photos. Still, from what they had on display, I really loved seeing a Seydou Keïta print. And it was great to see this Metzker up close.
It was also very interesting to compare things to the way Princeton organizes stuff. We’d been to the Princeton museum the previous day and this time Yayoi Kusama was displayed as a “Showa-era” painter in the basement with the “ancient” Japanese art. Visit MoMA and she’s listed on the map as one of the seven examples of artists from 1940s–1980.* Similarly, MoMA included Maria Martinez as one of the artists in the Designing Modern Women exhibition rather than how Princeton displays her work in the Ancient Americas room.
*I couldn’t help noting that the seven listed artists for both 1880s–1940s and 1940s–1980 consisted of six white men and one non-white woman (Frida Kahlo for the earlier galleries, Kusama for the later galleries).
I enjoyed the rest of the Designing Modern Women exhibition too. The design world is typically male-dominated so it’s good to call out women’s accomplishments in the field as well as hanging a hat on how many of these women had to fight for acceptance or whose acceptance—or at least their foot on the door—only arrived because of their partnership with a man.
It’s also important to recognize the areas in design—such as textiles—where women were often pushed as legitimate media in their own right. “Women’s work” still tends to be ignored or minimized as a legitimate pursuit unless a man decides to go into it.* So to take these fields and hold them up as being worth looking at and studying, period, is great to see.
*Seriously, look at who our celebrity chefs and fashion designers are. Yes there are women in there, but they’re outnumbered by men.
The video game exhibit is also on the design floor and pulled me in because I would recognize the sounds of PacMan anywhere. I like the display in that it allows people to actually play the games while still looking like a museum exhibition instead of an arcade. This allows for the performance aspect of video games to also be part of the exhibition. It’s also especially nice to see kids playing games that are decades older than they are.
There were a ton of special exhibitions at MoMA. Most of those will get their own write ups so that this post doesn’t ramble too much. The only one I’ll mention here is the Toulouse-Lautrec room since I don’t really have much to say about it. As a printing nerd, I always enjoy seeing prints in museums and really looking at the craft involved. With regard to Toulouse-Lautrec, I love how he treats clothing so often as a void—either of color of or paper—just showing the details in the faces and hands of his lithographs.