First we went to MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art. The key thing to know is that is was it was raining, quite heavily when we went and the Museum was heaving with people. The museum looks like an office building from the front and inside it felt small, busy and awkward. You travel by escalator to the 5 floors of displays and the starring exhibit was a study of Björk. I had seen mixed reviews so avoided the queues and went around the rest of the museum missing this. The collection had some brilliant stuff; in particular the video from Hito Steyerls – “HOW NOT TO BE SEEN: A Fucking Didactic Educational .mov file” based on how to disappear within a society that is so camera centric,
But for all bits of creative fun stuff the whole place lacked. Perhaps I had been spoiled by GoMA and the Tate Modern in London. Both these modern art spaces have a big room (the Tate Moderns turbine room is substantially bigger than GoMA). They provide the physicality and scale of a very large space for artists to use and play with, when you walk in the exhibitions in this large space set a guide to the rest of the spaces contained within the gallery. MoMA lacked this. There was plenty of space and lots of things to see, but a real lacking of spectacle. The closest thing was a 50ft projection of Björk videos on a white wall. But there was no sound. As I walked through I noticed that the galleries seemed to be missing the daylight. I wondered if it was just it was overcast, but I don’t know, as an experience it just lacked.
We then walked through central park to the American Museum of Natural History; you know the one from the “Night at the Museum” movies, right? Well it had an impressive entry hall. With quotes from Roosevelt in gold embossing on the wall, and the dinosaur bones in the middle, what a place. We went in through the dioramas and frankly were disappointed.
It was dark, very dark the dioramas were fine but not great. In fact the most interesting part of the museum was a large piece of wood. We went through to the Space section and Native American section but it didn’t improve. It lacked originality, and a coming to life, it lacked something. For example they had big totem pole style wooden displays. But instead of being real wooden totem poles or similar, a nice man had asked some villagers to make him something similar to the traditional wooden totem poles. It was a tourist piece. I don’t mind that, but it just felt like the whole place was lacking some specialness. Both the museums above lacked a tactile side; a sense of fun and play was absent.
We left both feeling disappointed.
Later in our trip we went to the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And the change was significant.
The Guggenheim had to be good or this day wasn’t going to go well. It was. The first thing to remark on was the building. It is spectacular, the use of light, and circles brought a sense of both drama and fun to anything we would see. The dominating exhibit was from On Kawara – Silence
It was large, sprawling, uniformed yet random. It was weird, and had a sense of the bizarre which ultimately made us laugh and giggle at it. I like that. The series of paintings, newspapers, postcards, telegrams, ledgers of dates and maps was vast. It was great, and generously sized. Going from the top floor to the ground floor where,
“In conjunction with the exhibition, the Guggenheim organized a continuous live reading of the artist’s One Million Years, the steady recitation of numbers from a vast ledger, which were performed on the ground floor of the Guggenheim rotunda.”
Yip. Two readers sat behind desks and read a list of years, from a big book to an audience. It was weirdly awesome, in a “they’re not really gone read a million years are they?” type of way. Well, yes, they were doing it.
We also saw Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Infinite Possibility. Mirror Works and Drawings, that consisted of some drawing and some mirror works, which was fine but lacked character. Also The Hugo Boss Prize 2014: Paul Chan, Nonprojections for New Lovers which was special for its amazing power sockets in shoes. (yes powering two projectors from shoes?)
This exhibit had a sense of the bizarre and fun about it which was delightful. The museum also had a small display of 19th & 20th century paintings. It wasn’t large, but it was enough to balance to craziness of what was happening in other parts of the building. (Disappointingly the Kandinsky gallery was closed, I was sad as I like Kandinsky).
With faith restored we went to Metropolitan Museum of Art, just down the street.
The place is massive and labyrinthine. I am sure we walked through several galleries multiple times. As a museum it was great. We wandered through Greek and Roman sculpture, the art of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, through Modern and Contemporary art, European Culture and Decorative Arts. Further into The American Wing and into Egyptian art. Including the Temple of Dendur. Yes and entire Egyptian temple. You can walk in it, touch it, and actually see this amazing thing here. And it was this that took this museum to a different level. Authentic old things, the ability to touch history. We wandered up stairs and saw all the Van Gogh’s, Renoir, Monet, Picasso, Turner, Constable, and Degas pictures you could want. In fact it started to get a bit boring. The highlight for me was seeing two Klimt’s.
Not the gold series ones as they are in Austria, but two subtle, lovely paintings, they were beautiful to really see up close. The amount of beautiful paintings were bordering on too much. So we wondered about saw the musical instruments collections, and as part of their live Friday evening events there was a live jazz concert in this section. It was nice way to end the visit. (Although our planned cocktails were scuppered, as the garden on the roof bar wasn’t open when we were there.)
We left to find something to eat and felt pleased to have moved from the let downs of MoMA and AMoNH to two winners in the Guggenheim and MMoA, thankful for the two of the four we saw that had pulled through for us.