WED September 8th (MoMA)

WED September 8th (MoMA)

MoMA Website:

MoMA Conservation Department:

While this isn’t the main point of this journal post, I think the post-covid NYC is very interesting and worth noting. Walking into the MoMA galleries is an experience in and of itself. Usually packed to the brim with tourists, the entrance was almost empty filling the space not with noisy people, but with an eerie – almost surreal atmosphere. Even the normally crowded halls and shops of Penn Station seemed empty. 

We started the day by looking through the many galleries the museum has to offer. Since this class focuses on modern and contemporary art I decided to focus my time on the second floor galleries with the collection of works entitled “1970s-present.” These galleries consist of work arranged loosely by chronological order, with each exploring a specific topic. Some spaces were dedicated to one artist, a material, or even a place or movement in time. Interestingly, these presentations “…are conceived by teams of curators from all fields and at all levels of seniority collaborating closely to share expertise and viewpoints” (The Museum of Modern Art, 2021). The project consists of 16 different sections throughout the whole second floor. 

The first part of this project began with a section called “Public Images.” Here, a number of different artists utilize different mediums to take control of the digital age – most seizing control of cameras and television. It was very interesting to walk into this gallery as I was hit with a number of different things at once. I was confronted with the visual images on the walls ranging from painting to photography as well as the moving images of TV screens and even noise, coming from both the people in the gallery as well as music. One of the things that stood out to me in this section was how images shape our perceptions and the idea of “talking back to the media.” This feels all the more relevant in the 21st century, especially since Covid caused many of us to use different forms of media in almost all aspects of daily life – ranging from school to relaxation, even providing vital information about the pandemic itself. The other aspect of this exhibition that stood out to me was a dark room dedicated to one of Gretchen Bender’s pieces entitled “The Dumping Core.” It struck me how relevant assemblage of TVs and bombardment of media was, even if the piece was designed as a response to the media overload that the artist experienced in the 80s. It also reminded me of really interesting, thought provoking digital works from modern artists – specifically Sarah Cwynar. In fact, all of the pieces throughout the whole first floor felt incredibly relevant to the events of today. There were artists of color, responding to stereotype and stigma, artists responding to political turbulence and unrest, as well as artists responding to plague and epidemics surrounding the AIDS movement. The next section of the project “To Live and Die in New York” chronicles much of the 1980s and the response of artists to their surroundings. One particular piece that stood out to me was Martin Wong’s “Staton near Forsyth Street.” The piece itself isn’t particularly remarkable in its appearance but becomes very interesting when analyzed. Not only did the artist include his surroundings but he was a part of a wage of Puerto Rican migrants moving to New York. The painting shows what he saw, including images of hand signs (ASL) painted in the style of graffiti. The painting made me think about how our surroundings impact us everyday, even if we don’t realize it. 

Another aspect of this exhibition that I really enjoyed was the number of different mediums used. There were works of photography, painting, sculpture, paper, wire, stocking, and fibers. It was also very interesting to see work made by people who are likely still alive today. As an art historian, one who studies Medieval and Renaissance work, I do not get much (or really any) of that. The fact that I could hear the artist speak about their own work was amazing and very powerful. The MoMA actually did a great job of incorporating interviews from the artist by providing didactic material with directions on how to listen to audio through their website using a phone. I really enjoyed that interactive aspect of the museum. I also thought it was great how child friendly it was. There was more didactic material on the walls with prompts for kids so they would have their own opportunities to engage with the art. 

The next half of the day consisted of meeting with the MoMA’s conservation department. We were allowed into the conservation space, where we met with 3 object conservators, a painting conservationist, and a chemist. We learned about the process of conservation and the research involved. There was one person working on the preservation of kelp, which was fascinating. I had no idea that object conservation even existed! It was amazing to see such famous works off the wall, unframed, and in some cases unvarnished – truly a once in a lifetime experience. It was also really interesting to hear about the actual science involved in the process, especially the kinds of chemical isolations that the XRF scanner can identify. Talking to these professionals was extremely valuable in terms of networking and for learning but the breadth of knowledge and years of experience was also intimidating. It was also great to see firsthand how this conservation and even possibly restoration of work can impact objects and those who see them. For example we were able to see the work of the object conservators in the installation pieces of Japanese artist Shigeko Kubota. 

Overall, this experience has helped to expand my knowledge of art and even has changed my viewpoint on modern art by making the work more understandable and meaningful. (It was also just nic to go to the MoMA, as I’ve only been a few times!)

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