For many people in the US, the Memorial day holiday weekend marks the official start of summer. This year I ushered in the season with a short trip to New York City with my family, during which we visited the Museum of Modern Art.
The MoMA is one of the most visited attractions in New York, and definitely one of the most influential in the last century. Each season it produces exhibitions that challenge common perceptions of art and redefine methods of artistic expression. It also revisits work already in its collection, giving the pieces contemporary relevance.
Last weekend I was able to see three exhibitions at the MoMA. Each of the exhibits had a different focus, but related to the museum’s dedication to reinventing perceptions of art and bringing complex ideas to the public.
Since the 1970’s, Cindy Sherman has been a significant presence in the contemporary art world, challenging both medium and subject matter. A photographer by craft, Sherman uses her medium as a tool as well as a vehicle for her artistic vision. All of Sherman’s work are self-portraits, but none of her photographs of herself are actually her — she uses these constructed scenes to tackle themes of identity, stereotypes, and gender.
This exhibit chronicled her comprehensive and impressive body of work, including a display of her famous Untitled Film Stills and Centerfolds series, for which she is best known. It also featured a large, site-specific mural at the entrance of the special exhibitions hall that she created for the show.
To me the mural was probably the most impressive work in the exhibit, despite the fact that I hadn’t actually seen the Film Stills or Centerfolds in person. It definitely gave a concise visual example of the nature of Sherman’s work and the themes present in them.
In contrast to the Cindy Sherman show, which featured work by a single artist on multiple themes, Ecstatic Alphabets / Heaps of Language had the work of twelve artists dealing with a single theme – that of the material qualities of language. The exhibit had plenty of interesting pieces, but I had two particular favorites.
Tauba Auerbach’s How to Spell the Alphabet (2005) was a simple yet really effective and witty piece. The letters on the page on their own aren’t really all that special, but they compel you to read them aloud, which creates a dynamic interaction between the piece and the viewer.
Paul Elliman’s series of found objects was the perfect example of the presence of language in the everyday. I’m a bit of a typography geek so this was something I enjoyed quite a bit. Elliman had cases filled with found objects installed in the center of one of the galleries, with each case’s contents forming letterforms. It was witty and delightfully light at the same time.
The third temporary exhibit I caught at the MoMA was Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream. The architectural exhibition showcased the work of a few handpicked design studios to respond to the American housing crisis. The studios spent some time at MoMA’s PS1 contemporary art center, conceptualizing and designing their work.
My favorite of the projects that presented an interesting concept as well as creative design was the proposal by Stuido Gang Architects, a Chicago-based practice. I admit however that I’m a little biased to projects that have adaptive reuse of shipping containers, which this project did. Their concept, however, was the one I found to be the most lively and sustainable of the group. All of the projects however presented innovative solutions for urban housing and public spaces.
Cindy Sherman has already closed, but I definitely recommend the other two exhibitions if you have a chance to visit the Big Apple soon!