Modern art makes me want to…ROCK OUT!

Note: This is another post that I’m posting well, well, after I’ve written it; as you can see, I never finished it. La la…road to hell and all that. (Written 11/26/07, posted 11/17/08)

After a crazy week down in San Francisco for Thanksgiving, I finally, finally, finally snuck away for an afternoon at the MoMA. Every time I get down to SF, I swear I’m going to get down there, and my plans are invariably foiled, hijacked by family. It almost happened yesterday morning, too, with Marion taking me and the kids off to the stables to play with the horses for a little while as I watched the hour-hand on my watch slowly go around, smiling brightly, and trying very hard not to look like I was anxiously tapping my feet waiting to run off to the CalTrain station. Really, of course I want to hang out with the kids and muck about the stables, honest! Eventually, I was liberated, I managed to drop my suitcase at the airport (how smart am I?!), and I was free to play in the city for a whole afternoon before hopping on a plane to fly home again.

The luck has been running with me lately — I got down to the MoMA, and a woman walked out and handed me her extra ticket for free. She was a member of the museum, and her boyfriend never showed, apparently; I gave her my profuse thanks, and went in to check my coat, before heading upstairs. Lucky strike number two was that one entire floor of the museum was dedicated to a show by Jeff Wall. I’d stumbled across his work early this year, when I was googling Vik Muniz: I went to a Muniz show in Seattle on my birthday, and it was absolutely revelatory. It was the first time that I thought that I might be able to get my head around contemporary art – it was big and exciting, and it was, of all things, photography! I couldn’t really believe it. His pictures of pigment, especially the Monet cathedral fronts — it was as if my mind swallowed them whole, all at once, I could see all the layers of thought, all the complexities of the composition; I remember standing in the gallery laughing as I looked at them, I thought they were so amazing. (I’m sure those around me thought I had lost my mind.) I thought they were really, really wonderful. Anyway, at the time, I came across this article about Jeff Wall, and thought I’d like to see some of his work, but knew that it wouldn’t be likely, at least not anytime soon. My lucky, lucky day!

The show at the MoMA was a collection of roughly 20 years’ of work, from the early 80’s to now-ish, and my immediate reaction to Wall’s work was of loving, loving, loving it, though now that I’ve had a day to let my impressions settle some, I think I can be a little more critical. I was impressed, in large part, by the scale and presentation of his images. He shows his photographs as color transparencies on huge light boxes — anywhere from 6 by 8 feet to much, much larger — so they have the quality of the massive landscape and portrait paintings of the 18th and 19th century, where the viewer almost feels as if he can step into the picture frame. The photographs are of a variety of subjects – some are landscapes, some are interior settings, many with narrative elements; the best

Jeff Wall – The Destroyed Room – 1978

When you last wrote, I had just gotten back from a trip to San Francisco and a fantastic trip to the SF Museum of Modern Art over American Thanksgiving. Speaking of commercial art, the trip was so good! Do you know about Jeff Wall’s photography? There was a big show of his stuff going on there, and his work is so good! He does these huge photographic prints and then displays them on huge light boxes- so large you feel you can walk into the image frame. They are breathtaking in scale and beauty, the detail is astonishing, but they are unsettling too — they show the grime, the grit, the decay, the quotidian and mundane qualities of urban and suburban life. . They are entirely mesmerizing, and so well composed. He riffs on various “types” of classic paintings; I prefer the images with people in them. They have an element of the unexpected in them. ( Some of his critics insist that Wall’s work is too composed, too synthetic, too much like the set of a play. That he shows them on grand lightboxes only enhances their shininess, the slickness of them. Still, it was a seductive show to see, and one that excited me. The other highlight of the day was that I had the fantastic luck of seeing Duchamp’s Fountain in person, which I’d never seen outside of a textbook, and it looks just as silly as I’d hoped – it’s a shame they don’t hang the thing on the wall like an actual urinal.


~ by ecp on November 26, 2007.

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