MoMA Trip: “Abstract Impressionist New York” and “Warhol: Motion Pictures” Exhibitions

I am not proud to admit that it took me until my junior year of school to make it to the MoMA. I am a definite fan of modern art and have visited other modern art museums numerous times. Anyway, on spring break and with plenty of free time to spare, I bit the bullet and finally made my way down to 53rd street. Getting the free admission with Passport to New York was super simple once I was told that I simply go to the information booth rather than the normal ticket line (save yourself some time and head straight there – its at the back left of the lobby, just past coat check). Upon checking my ID to see that I was indeed a student and had my current semester validation sticker, they gave me a ticket and I headed into the museum.

I chose to forgo the free audio tour – I generally prefer reading to listening because I can move on when I choose without cutting off some little robot voice – and headed straight up to the heavy hitter floors, 4 and 5. I started on four where Warhol makes a strong first impression. Warhol, Pollock, and many more generally reside on this floor, but they are emphasized further in the current exhibition the museum is running through April 25th. Abstract Impressionist New York traces the work’s of those artists who took on this style around the 1950s in New York City. The compiled pieces are tremendously interesting when considering the political climate of the time, and the museum does a great job of illustrating some of these connections for the exhibit.

Many of the artists seem out to destroy, they explode their art to examine it in pieces. My favorite piece in the exhibit brought to my mind ideas of individuality as separated from the group or society.

Barnett's "The Wild"

“The Wild” (1950) by Barnett Newman looks to be a simple stripe. It is a structural piece in a way, as it stands out from the wall as much as it is wide, and brings to mind that the side of a wrapped canvas is as much a part of a painting as is the front. The MoMA has really heightened the impact of the piece though, by placing it alone on an adjacent wall to Barnett’s “Vir Heroicus Sublimis” (1950-51). This piece is the same height as “The Wild” and employs similar reds suggesting that the pieces belong together. Each piece is given its own wall and while “Vir…” is massive and almost requires such treatment, “The Wild” is surrounded by white space. The room is small and both are to be looked at from a close distance. The effect in contrasting the two pieces is magnificent and made the trip to the museum and the exhibition completely worth it.

Of course, the exhibit did not end there. Viewing Pollock in the context of the surrounding Abstract Expressionists was also thrilling. The given political context of his work helped me in understanding it, and seeing the works up close left me impressed and suprised at how different they each are in character and texture when viewed in person rather than as scene in photographs.

Before moving to the other main exhibition on display I walked through floor five. Here Kahlo, Dalí, van Gogh, Monet, and Picasso are on display, just to name a few. I won’t mention much about my experience here, though it was exciting and fruitful (my only disappointment was the lack of many Dalí works as he is my favorite artist). The one thing I was particularly struck by though, and this was true of the whole museum, was the organization of the pieces. Each piece felt meticulously placed, and movement around the rooms was exciting as artists and perspectives changed in a way that it seemed like paintings,  sculptures, and artists were conversing with each other. What I appreciated most was that no artist was treated better than another, “The Starry Night” was given its own wall but was surrounded by many other pieces and seemed almost to sneak up on the museum-goer. There was a slightly larger crowd around it, but not that much larger, with an abundance of visitors examining other paintings around the roommany of which were not even van Gogh. This equal-treatment-to-all attitude taken by the MoMA translated into my viewing experience. I felt no pressure to seek out all of the famous paintings, and instead could discover them alongside works by artists that I had only vaguely or never even heard of.

A Clip from Warhol's "The Kiss"

Finishing up on the 5th floor, I was tired and almost decided to call it quits rather than going up to the 6th floor exhibit. Remembering how long it took me to actually make the time to come here though, I decided to take advantage and see as much as possible. I am so glad I did. Warhol: Motion Pictures is a stunning exhibit of films that Warhol created, each lasting between four minutes and 5 hours. They are generally close up shots of people he knew, including Susan Sontag and many others, and in most of the pieces those being filmed simply look into the camera. One entitled “Blow Job” runs almost an hour long, and records a man as he purportedly receives the illicit act. We only see his face and may examine the various feelings he goes through. Another, playing in a large theatre where one can actually sit (most of the others reside together in a single room where the visitor can take in multiple at once) is called “Kiss” and runs about an hour as well. Warhol zooms into the couples faces, both amplifying intimacy and somehow also seemingly lessening it by allowing us to intrude. I cannot describe the exhibit further and do it justice. It is one that must be seen to be experienced, and it only runs through Mar. 21, so if you have free time as break winds down this could be a great way to spend it.

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Cody Holliday Haefner
Columbia College ’12
Arts Initiative Student Associate

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