Jane Austen on Exhibit

Okay, this is super exciting

The Morgan Library here in NYC is home to the largest deposit of Jane Austen correspondences (only a small number have survived the centuries). They’ve also gotten their hands on a few of her manuscripts. All of it is on display in “A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy,” November 6, 2009, through March 14, 2010. So Austenites, Let’s Go!



MoMA Now Part III — New Photography 2009


Walead Beshty, "Three Color Curl"

“New Photography 2009” is jarring. Not so much because of the content of the installed works, but because these brightly colored, mega-prints stand as loud foils to the petite black and white historical photographs that line the preceding galleries. Toto, we’re not using film anymore.

Photographer as Artist, that is, the photographer as the creator of an image rather than a mere recorder of a scene, has been a subject of discussion since photography’s inception. In New Photography 2009, there is no question that the photographers are the brains and eyes behind these images. Walead Beshty’s monolith fluorescent prints are produced entirely in the darkroom without ever using a camera. They’re like a neon-visualization of a John Cage composition — their patterns are entirely random. Leslie Hewitt’s upside-down still-lives drive home that she is in control of her art while Daniel Gordon’s grotesque collage figures remind us that beauty is a construct, in this case of the photographer.

New Photography is interesting, mostly for the contrast between the recent works and the older photographs. While the galleries are short on art historical contextualization (there seems to be little sense of evolution from the early tintypes to the contemporary prints), the new installation is still captivating.

To me, Photography is a dying art. Maybe that’s not fair. It’s a certainly a changing and troubled art. Photography has moved so far away from its beginnings that today’s “art photographs” are almost unrecognizable as photographs. The 6 artists of New Photography fabricate their own scenes, tinker with them, photograph and rephotograph, photoshop and rephotoshop, until their vision is conveyed in a chromogenic print that may or may not look like something out of the real world. Whatever happened to photographers capturing fleeting moments or the soul of their sitter in a single frame? Sure there’s a lot of talented people with cameras doing that, but the artists seen this fall at MoMA are not among them.

MoMA Now II — Monet’s Water Lilies

tryptich monetMonumental. Sublime. Enveloping. Inescapable. Soothing. Disorienting.

There are a lot of words that I can think of to describe those epic Water Lily paintings, but they all seem inadequate. I didn’t want to like the Water Lilies. Their celebrity and their ubiquity made them feel cliched. Their pastel palate made me think of kleenex boxes.

Boy, was I wrong. And boy, am I enamored with those canvases.

I blame my misguided judgments on the fact that the last time I saw the Water Lilies at MoMA they were hanging in the atrium — a loud, busy space where the lighting and the people made it hard to spend any time with the work. Now, and for the first time since MoMA’s makeover, the dominating triptych, the large-scale panel, and two more late Monets are being exhibited together in their own space, where they can be appropriately appreciated. (one of the greatest oversights of MoMA’s multimillion dollar rennovation was that a Water Lilies gallery was never added. tisk tisk)

The history of the Water Lilies, both in France and at MoMA is fascinating, and is worth spending a few minutes getting acquainted with. Here’s the short version: Monet painted 40 of these 6×13-19′ canvases between 1914-26; they were supposed to be a gift to France; no one wanted them; MoMA bought 2 in 1951, and helped make them important, canonical paintings; MoMA lost the two canvases in the early 60s in a fire (wooops); MoMA bought the triptych and another large canvas to replace them. phew.

Visiting the Water Lilies is less of an exhibit viewing and more a physical experience… which is exactly what Monet intended. You’re sucked into the depths of the canvases, enveloped by the layers upon layers pf paint, plunged into the center of these shimmering plays of light and dark. You think you’re going to walk in and walk out, but 20 minutes later you’re still there staring at them. They demand your attention.

The Water Lilies will remain in the 2nd floor gallery (convieniently located next to the uber-delicious cafe) until April 2010, but here’s hoping this becomes their permanent home. But with their fate still undetermined, I have to quote New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl here and tell you “last one in’s a rotten egg.”

MoMA Now I — Ron Arad, “No Discipline”

016Ron Arad: No Discipline

For curator Paola Antonelli, working with designer Ron Arad (Israeli, b. 1951) presented brand new challenges. “Typically, curators wait until an artist dies before they organize a retrospective,” she said. “Sometimes I wished I’d waited.” Arad is a designer other designers love to hate, Antonelli revealed — he doesn’t play by the rules, he writes his own, and his less than cuddly demeanor makes him a difficult collaborator. That being said, Arad remains one of the most respected and influential designer of the last half-century.

If there’s one thing No Discipline succeeds in doing it’s in positioning Arad as a fearless visionary on a constantly evolving journey. The exhibit is visually stunning. Objects are organized within and around a glimmering and flowing infinity curve, commissioned by MoMA and designed by Arad for the installation. The dominating structure in the 6th floor gallery is ballsy yet logical, organic yet geometric, infinite yet bounded, and ultimately stands as a metaphor for Arad and his career as a designer. Back-lighting allows for objects positioned within the interior of the structure to cast shadows behind those housed on the outside, and vice versa. We are constantly reminded that Arad’s present creations are byproducts of earlier works and that each piece awaits a future evolution.

The Rover chair, the bookworm, the imagined revolving Alps restaurant, the works that made him a design legend, those with fair less commercial appeal, his design as art, his design with function: yes, it’s all here in all its incarnations. Antonelli claims all the furniture pieces are comfortable, even the seemingly unbalanced chaise lounge. I’m doubtful, but they sure are wonderful to look at. (The bookworm is available in the MoMA design store if you feel like you need a statement bookshelf.)

015Antonelli deserves praise for making a potentially disjointed retrospective logical and easily legible. You don’t need to know a lot about design or Ron Arad to walk away with the exhibition’s thesis. Just look and you’ll get the picture. Antonelli opted to replace typical wall-labels with animated monitors. Short videos construct and deconstruct each object on view, revealing both Arad’s process and the piece’s practical use. Written text is comparatively inadequate — especially in dealing with the work of a designer who takes process and function so seriously. For those that feel the need for some more traditional text, there’s a map out side the door with all the typical wall label information. Still need more info? There’s always the audio guide (which I understand is better than the audioguide for the permanent collection).

Switching out of academic/critic mode and moving into museum-goer mode, I absolutely love this exhibit. The infinity curve, with all its cuby holes, makes a visit to the gallery an act of exploration as you move around and through it. It’s just fun being in there. Each piece of furniture, lamp and light fixture is otherworldly and captivating. You can’t help imagining a room designed around your favorite piece(s). Arad may have infinite designs still in him, but your time to see what he’s already accomplished has a definitive end. The show closes on October 19, and who knows how long we’ll have to wait for a reincarnation.

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