A long post after a trip to MAD and MOMA

Today the new shipment of books had not come in, so we were given a choice: take the day off (without pay) or stay and let them “find things for us to do.” The library is next to the Museum of Art and Design and across from the MOMA, so I decided to have an arts afternoon.

MAD has an embroidery exhibit that I’d tried to go to a few days ago but since admission is $7 I only looked at the pieces I could see from the front desk. Today’s trip was more successful, because when I queried about discounts– did they have a student discount? a SUNY discount? etc.– the security guard took pity on me and gave me his guest pass. The exhibit of new embroidery (“Pricked”) was pretty interesting. Four major themes cropped up: memory/memorial (perhaps half a dozen), war/death (8 pieces), sex/gender (another 1/2 dozen) and mapping (3). Generally speaking, male embroiderers were more likely to explore war/death while women were more likely to explore sex/gender. I took note of the following:
Nava Lubelski, who embroidered stains onto cloth handkercheifs and tableclothes (her piece is on the exhibit poster)
Clyde Oliver, whose Welsh Quilt is bright blue thread faux-embroidered into pieces of shale. The things he embroiders are cups, plates, and other items used to draw patterns for home embroidery (i.e. things used to trace circles, draw straight lines, etc.)
Laura Splan, who made a nightie from the peel resulting from a drugstore chemical peel mask. She covered her whole torso with this stuff, and then sewed the resulting “skin” into a lacy chemise, which she then embroidered with pretty patterns (it must have been quite fragile!). A close look at the chemise reveals skin patterns. She also makes doilies from pathogens, germs, etc.
– Elaine Reicheck… I loved all her pieces, although one of her pieces looks too much like one of mine for me to be a happy camper (I think my piece is actually more successful in terms of having an interesting concept and executing it with skill and creativity, although hers is quite beautiful). A piece of hers that I felt comfortable liking was A lexicon of clouds. This piece, perhaps 3′ high by 7′ wide, has canvas printouts of cloud details from Impressionist painters situated amid borrowed poetic text from Wallace Stevens. The result is very beautiful… but as with her installation veil that resembles my Veil, I found the work beautiful and inspiring but undertheorized. And, as usual, I thought the artist could have used better linguistic material. This is often the case with visual artists, and I am often frustrated with the lack of collaboration between artists who want to incorporate words into their work and poets who, though possessed of the right words, usually don’t have the skill to go around making art.
Stephen Beal’s Periodic Table of the Artist’s Colors… a periodic table of embroidered hues beside which are embroidered memories of those colors. I love any charts or graphs that systematically record memories.
– Emily Hermant, The Lies Project.
Kent Henriksen, Absence of Myth. This was a damask screenprint on a sheet of patterned silk with embroidered toile-esque scenes. The scenes were of KKK activities. This reminded me of Kara Walker. But I love her so I really don’t mind if someone continues her activities in different media. Embroidery, as a domestic art, is certainly an apt medium for handling socio-domestic violence.

I got into the MOMA for free with my SUNY student ID (and thanks to Ekrem who told me that many of the museums in NYC are free for SUNY students). I was intoxicated by many things here, and I only reached the second floor before they closed! Upon entering I was greeted by two huge, beautiful Cy Twomblys. At this point and at many subsequent points during my visit, I wished Jim were with me, because he is very fun to go to museums with. I often wanted to turn to him to say something, to share my joy or disdain about some piece, and was just as often disappointed to find him missing.

One piece I really liked was Nancy Spero’s Notes in Time, which was made in 1979. This long paper scroll, cut into pieces measuring about 16″x6′, was a treatise on being-woman which borrowed text from many sources including H.D. The text was stenciled or written on and illustrated with nude female figures dancing.

The most inspiring part of the MOMA that I saw today was the “New Perspectives in Latin American Art, 1930-2006” exhibit. Here I liked works by Cildo Meireles, Mira Schendel, and especially Leon Ferrari, an Argentinian born in 1920. His pieces were sort of like the Twomblys in that they blur the boundary between text and image– they look like handwritten manuscripts but there are no recognizeable words. Excerpt hastily scrawled from the plaque:

“written paintings”– drawings as texts and texts as drawings… question the distinction between art and language– between pure visuality and codified information, and between graphic gesture and calligraphy….

Regarding similar questions of perception, I enjoyed Lygia Pape’s Book of Creation (1959-60), a series of unbound, textless panels about which she wrote:

Through each person’s experiences there is a process of open structure through which each structure can generate its own meaning


About Jessica Smith

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One Response to A long post after a trip to MAD and MOMA

  1. RW says:

    Have you ever thought about writing art criticism and submitting it for publication? You know – to the relevant magazines, etc. I guess, like freelance writing. Just a thought. When I read this entry it reminded me of when Ashbery got sort of started “accidentally” doing that and then ended up in Paris for like 8 years. It complimented his craft as a poet to be doing it – and I could definitely see you getting your criticism published and enjoying doing the writing.

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