Exploring the details at MoMA

Visitors checking out Basquiat’s Glenn.

After setting up for 2020’s SPRING/BREAK show featuring Caron Tabb, I hustled over to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in NYC for a quick bit of art tourism before heading back to Boston.

I managed to check out Artist’s Choice: Amy Sillman, The Shape of Shape as well as have a wander through a few galleries before I had to hustle out to continue with my various obligations.

This post is comprised of some of the pieces that caught my eye – I am grouping them here as pieces that can best be appreciated through their details.

While certainly there are many pieces at MoMA which I haven’t photographed and deserve to be on this list, including some of the best known (such as Van Gogh’s Starry Night, which was surrounded by a crowd, a la Mona Lisa, when I was there), I have simply selected some that I enjoyed during my most recent visit.

For some other new and appreciated discoveries I made at MoMA check out Coursera’s Modern Art & Ideas Series, which gave me an introduction to some previously unknown works as well as a new appreciation for others. I would highly recommend it for enthusiasts of contemporary art before a visit.

Glenn

Jean-Michel Basquiat (see his piece, Glenn, at the top) has never been a favorite artist of mine. Nonetheless, I want to be clear that I have a huge amount of respect for his work.

Despite my relative disinterest in Basquiat, this piece, Glenn, stopped me in my tracks. It sits alone on a wall, and combines both the dark void of a huge figure on the right side as well as many smaller vignettes on the left. While I’ve seen many of Basquiat’s other works, but none quite as eye-catching. Glenn has a power to it that I haven’t been able to appreciate in his other pieces. I am now eagerly anticipating the upcoming exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Writing the Future – Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation (April 5 – August 2, 2020).

Small detail of Glenn

A differently-detailed portrait

Fernand Léger, Three Women (1921-22)

Fernand Léger’s piece, Three Women, has an enjoyably graphic quality to it that makes it feel classic and modern at the same time. The clean lines and pops of color (the red table, yellow cushions and green diamond floor) contrast with the muted, shaded bodies of the three women. Léger is known for his cubist style but here we find a different yet equally typical style of his. I found myself drawn to the “shapely” nudes. It’s easy for one’s eye to get lost following the various shapes present in this piece. Despite the composition of three seemingly sedate women, I consider this to be an “active” work of art rather than one that seems particularly restful.

“Moving Pictures…”

A poster for the film Metropolis, one of the first sci-fi films ever.

At least a decade ago I stumbled upon the film Metropolis one late night on television and was immediately entranced. I had no idea what I was watching, but I sat mesmerized in front of the stylized sets of city skylines and a generally incomprehensible plot until the film ended and I found out that I had been watching Metropolis.

Check out the preview and enjoy the utterly mesmerizing concept of “future Earth” from 100 years ago. The lovely film poster gives a glimpse into the world of the Metropolis the film.

Also within the realm of “moving pictures” one can also consider JODI’s My%Desktop, on the same floor at MoMa

In a way, we aren’t as far from Metropolis as we might think. My%Desktop is four screens each with the artist’s desktop as windows are repeatedly opened, closed and manipulated. One could argue that the desktop is, in a way, a type of 21st century “the digital city” – the sound details as well as the ways in which the windows open and close create a series of patterns which are impossible to follow and yet also strikingly familiar.

Ellen Gallagher’s DeLuxe – Selling the Details

Ellen Gallagher’s series DeLuxe created her 60-piece composition starting with magazine advertisements (mostly focusing on those aimed at black women) and then edited them in an additive or reductive fashion and layered them to fashion her own message from the visual and printed materials.

A few sample images from Gallagher’s DeLuxe

This composition creates a narrative where small details such as empty eyes, three dimensional hair or clay faces jump out from seemingly vintage advertisements. The effect is impressive, with each individual page its own work of art while also having its own place in a larger collective composition.

Empirical Construction, Istanbul

Julie Mehretu, Empirical Construction, Istanbul

Mehretu’s piece, Empirical Construction, Istanbul, amazed me with its layers.

Detail, Empirical Construction, Istanbul

From the closeup one can see the many layers that went into this piece. It’s an impressive work of two-dimensional art that gives the impression of quasi-three dimensionality with the manner in which the color and lines leap forth from the canvas.

The details are in the nuance

Richard Serra, Equal

Richard Serra’s work can feel a bit inaccessible. It seems like enormous steel pieces can have a bit of a “so what” quality to them in this day and age.

For example, as I walked around the spare room where they are located, I saw people coming into the space, looking around and then walking out, not taking the time to truly inspect and consider what they were seeing.

I always highly recommend reading the wall text

Taking a look again at the blocks, you’ll notice that indeed, none of the stacks are exactly alike: each is oriented a bit differently.

Taking a moment to appreciate these monumental pieces of steel, each weighing 40 tons, the amount of labor that took to create, move and stack these items can permit the viewer an added appreciation of them. By concentrating on the details, rather than just the physical form, there is more to explore and enjoy in the work.

From small to large, MoMa offers an abundance of artwork to enjoy, and one can choose any number of themes through which to experience the works on view.

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