Art evokes emotion. Yes, I agree with that. But what if art makes you feel icky? That's (in my book) an emotion, right. Who wants to pay twenty bones to go see art that is disturbing? Well, apparently a LOT of people. I went on an impromptu trip to the Museum of Modern Art today and it was a lovely trip . . . with the exception of the most popular exhibit.
First things first, we headed straight toward the main event: a retrospective of the performance artist Marina Abramovic called "The Artist is Present". Otherwise known as the "naked people" exhibit. Here's the deal: Marina Abramovic is a sixty-something year old Serbian woman that is considered the "grandmother of performance art". I, sadly, had only once been acquainted with her work. She was the performance artist in episode number 86 of Sex in the City (you know the one where Carrie's dating Mikhail Baryshnikov and they go at night to see this performance artist woman in black that doesn't eat or sleep and then Carrie and Misha totally make out at his really posh apartment? Hmmm, Michelle, watch Sex and the City much?) Anyway, her work seemed slightly compelling in the episode, but I didn't really pay attention. Similarly, the first "piece" we saw (does one call it a piece) consisted of two chairs set opposite one another. Marina sits in one and the viewers, one at a time, are invited to quietly sit across from her. Sounds interesting. Potentially. But after a while, it's just two folks looking at one another and a lot of other folks looking at them looking at one another. I get it, but I'd much rather be spending my time delving into a Kandinsky. Or a work by Umberto Boccioni (one of my new favorites).
Then, like lemmings and even though we weren't digging the first one, we headed up to the sixth floor to see more of Ms. Abramovic's work. The retrospective included live performance art pieces as well as huge screens playing videos of past performances. One woman quietly carved a pentogram on her naked stomach with a razor blade while, across from her, a gaggle of screaming old women dressed in babushkas and skirts without underwear ran through the rain and flipped up the skirts. The live exhibits included two men in business suits motionlessly pointing at each other, a naked woman simulating sex with a skeleton, and two naked men that faced each other less than a foot apart that viewers were encouraged to squeeze between. I was thoroughly disturbed by all of it. I didn't care so much about the naked, it was the empty stares of the performers and the violence with which they performed their acts. Yes, I do realize that much of her work is a political statement. Yes, Marina Abramovic did her job if she was attempting to make a lasting impression on viewers. No, I would never go back. Or, for that matter, tell anyone else to go for the first time.
We left the screaming naked people and headed, dazed, for the painting and sculpture floor. It was a breath of fresh air. We perused Van Gogh's “A Starry Night”, Picasso's “Demoiselles d’Avignon”, and other famous modern art originals. I found a new favorite artist in the works of Umberto Boccioni. His works, including "Dynamism of a Soccer Player" and "States of the Mind" were mesmerizing. I read a bit about him on the wall and realized why his paintings had such movement and life. He said that, “To paint a human figure you must not paint it; you must render the whole of its surrounding atmosphere . . . movement and light destroy the materiality of bodies”. His work is evidence that he's completely right.
We finished the afternoon at the architecture and design area. It was a happily light way to end the afternoon. I definitely learned a lot and enjoyed seeing the vast collections at the MoMa, but I would not recommend the special exhibits for the faint of heart. Or those that are easily offended.