So yeah. I've visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York City several times in the past year to see special exhibits (including one on Yugoslavian minimalist performance art was a baffling and unhappy accident, complete with WARNING SIGNS about LIVE NEKKIDITY WITHIN), and while it's a privilege and a pleasure to see art that's been key to the shaping of Contemporary Western Culture, I find visiting this particular museum to be a frustrating experience. And no--not just because it's full of rubes getting their photos taken in front of Van Gogh's "Starry Night" (although that doesn't help, I assure thee).
I can imagine only imagine the kinds of difficulties one would encounter when curating a special exhibit are enormous. Between getting permission to exhibit the right pieces to formulating a thesis to link seemingly disparate parts of an artist's career to physically assembling the space needed for the show, it's the kind of daunting undertaking I've explicitly avoided throughout my life. That having been said, I've seen two recent shows that left me feeling as though there were a couple of really specific tactics that could have been taken to improve... well, to improve *my* viewing experience, anyway (as in all things--Your Respective Mileage May Vary).
"Keeping Other Humans Out" was not part of my strategy, so BITE YOUR TONGUE.
The James Ensor retrospective provided an incredible opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with pieces by a painter whose mastery of the grotesque--and I do mean really, profoundly, scatologically grotesque--in many ways characterized his career. Ensor's aggressive use of images to convey death, decay, and a general distaste for humanity are what I came to see, and while many of these works were on display, I couldn't help but feel the overall mood and tone of the show was appreciably sunnier than I'd have liked. It felt as though there was an effort to legitimize the artist by pairing his more horrific works with still lifes and scenes of domesticity. But... let's be frank here: I like my Boschian excess, and while this decision ultimately emphasized the fact that Ensor's images still have the power to shock, it felt unfortunate to me.
As to the Tim Burton show that's going on right now (in the Photography Special Exhibition Area, which I'd guess is about a third the size of the 6th Floor Special Exhibition Area--just FYI)... it feels a lot like looking at someone's DeviantArt.com page. Seriously--if I ever get famous, I BEG you not to display my seventh grade cartooning experiments. And you can also lose track of high-school-age submissions to the academic art and literary journal. About twenty percent of the show is devoted to Burton's adolescent doodlings, and to be honest, it kinda made me and my show-going companion a little embarrassed for the artist. The show just felt very commercial, and was a bit more like going to Planet Hollywood and ooh-ing over the collected props than it was like attending an artist's career retrospective. Also, it was suspiciously free of images of Burton's long-time partner Lisa Marie.
So what's our takeaway from all this? Allow me to elaborate:
- I wish curators would embrace the innate bizarreness of art. Everybody LOOOOOOVES art, but artists are a pain in the ass, with their Ideas and Eccentricities.
- Anything can be part of your artistic legacy, so be careful what you draw because inevitably, someone who hates you will put it in MoMA solely to embarrass you.
- Don't photobomb Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon."
Weirdly enough, I LOVED the Francis Bacon retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and I can't collect my thoughts on that enough for a write-up. I hate the way my brain works sometimes.
Note: I decided to illustrate this entry entirely with images created by James Ensor, mainly because I felt like looking at them today. Hope you dug that as I much as I did.