Measuring Your Own MoMAJanuary 22nd, 2009
“I thought there’d by only 40 people here, like those intimate viewings,” said the man next to me.
“No,” I butted in, “They’re letting in everyone. Even me!”
We grabbed our drinks from the open bar and shuffled out from the crowd. The lobby was crowded, but we were pleased to see so many artists. In our first five minutes, we bumped into Jeff Davis, who just closed his brilliant show at KS Art in Tribeca, Katherine Bernhardt, an SVA alumna, and Ricky Sears, also an SVA alum, who is currently making the most of his prestigious LMCC Workspace residency. But are they here for the open bar? With the art market in peril, artists must adapt and soak in freebies – especially top-shelf drinks – whenever they can. And food! I snacked on some roasted almonds while awaiting my Ketel One and tonic.
We escaped from the cocktail gridlock and inched our way toward the stairs. Polite chiding from MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach gave us an extra boost: “Don’t spend all your time at the bar; go see the show.”
A people-watcher’s dream, the Atrium is filled with throngs of upwardly gazing viewers, alighting into the space and then quickly succumbing to the tug of the nucleus: a vast, welcoming circular sofa too plush and capacious to pass up. It’s an endless front row for the towering two-story projections criss-crossing overhead of swirling, bubbling, churning, and oozing nebulas of dense color in the form of crystal water, lush grass, plump fruit, and velvety flesh. The imagery drifts from wall to wall, often merging and fusing into Rorshach symmetries; a foot meets its reflection and explodes into a landscape of alien protrusions and mysterious crevices.
It is the complete opposite of Barnett Newman’s obelisk, which formerly anchored the atrium. That macho monument, a towering and angular lingam that we walk around, has been dethroned by a yonic blanket that surrounds us, enveloping us in a blissful temple of sensuality.
[Joining us in our video ecstasy was the venerable Jack Pierson and his boyfriend, Brian A. Meola. Together, we sank into the imagery and back out, ebbing and flowing. We came up for air just often enough to swap stories about the magical Inauguration Day, and speculating that Justice Roberts and President Obama bungled the solemn oath because they were distracted by Michelle Obama’s shimmering dress. Did you like it? I confided my distaste for her selection – just not right for her – not that it matters – but we all agreed that Isabel Toledo is wonderful, and Jack used to have a studio right next door to hers. And don’t you just love the drawings produced by her husband, Ruben?
Jack and Brian drifted deeper into the sea of spectators, while my posse trudged back ashore. The zig-zag of escalators shuttled us up to the 6th floor, housing part of the Marlene Dumas survey, “Measuring Your Own Grave.” (Mine will be approximately 18″ square, as I plan to be compacted, much like a Chamberlain.)
Upstairs, we bumped into artist and SVA alum Lane Twitchell, who successfully dodged all three of my attempts to snap a photo of him. (As if it isn’t already hard enough: having to sneak past the security guards.) Lane conducted an impromptu survey of those in our temporary party. “Marlene Dumas: thumbs up or thumbs down?”
Three thumbs pointed up, and two down. Mine was down. The paintings are gripping, but the phantasmagoria of writhing babies, ghoulish faces, and centerfold corpses was all too funereal for my mood. And I wasn’t ready to let go of the blissed-out fuzz of the Pipilotti Rist Experience.
“Who’s hungry?” The roasted almonds hadn’t held us over, so all in the group stormed their brains about where to go hunting and gathering. I voted for pizza. We zipped up our coats and ventured into the frigid night.