Wednesday, April 8, 2009

April 8 2009

Wandering through the MOMA galleries with headphones connected to my mp3 player. Feeling frustrated that I can’t seem to get on line even after going to an att store and getting some help. Still couldn’t get connected during a $10 snack at Starbucks. Frustrated I began to wander with my mp3 player drowning out Manhattan crowds with the finale to La Traviata. It made it seem more amusing somehow. I’ve been here so many times before. I worked here at Brentanos one Autumn and Winter after high school and took for granted the midtown Manhattan world of bookstores and the museum that I l loved and had free access to through my dad.

I came to take the permanent collection of the MOMA as something familiar and to be considered often through some selected filter, like watching a movie only to see how the music is used to accent the rest of the story, or to only concentrate on the editing.

And so I wandered into the new MOMA that my dad never saw and flashed my sons membership pass and took the escalator to the top floor. I began to wander through exhibitions of artists I’d never heard of, a South American employing interesting explorations of calligraphy and faux writing and press type.

I found it reminded me occasionally of Saul Steinberg and I moved on to another gallery and another artist I’d never heard of Kippenberger, I’m obviously out of touch these days. There was something more here, exquisite draftsmanship and a ferocious and inquisitive exploration of styles and techniques. My opera went silent and the mp3 player ran out of juice. I switched to the other one I have with me, a player with a different variety of music than the one with opera. I fired it up and I was looking at this man’s work, Germanic, restless and meticulous now to the soundtrack of Tammy Wynette. I began to think about the juxtaposition of what I was hearing and what I was seeing, not only on display, but in the crowds milling through the rooms. There were people of all ages, many languages, many intently listening to the recorded narration of the museums audio guide. They were being instructed in the relevance and historical context of the artists and I was hearing Tammy Wynette singing about divorce and men and loss and disappointment. Then I wandered into the room with Monet’s paintings of water lilies on three huge panels dominating the room and people milling around with a sort of awkward reverence, staring and taking pictures with their cell phones. Among the most famous works hanging in a museum in America. Here, in the temple of high culture, the high church of the highest esteemed artists so designated by the high priests of our cultural fabric. And I was blaspheming with the coarse honky- tonk vernacular country and western pop music from the sixties of a priestess of low culture, at least as far as they might be concerned.

Other than a recorded lecture or my own reverent and knowledgeable thoughts and memories, accumulated from a lifetime of exposure, but not a lifetime of intellectual discourse or objective thought or understanding of didactic art criticism. Then I wandered into the permanent collections and was surrounded by Warhol and Wesselman, Giocometti (I remember one huge show of Giacometti I saw with my dad here in the sixties) and Hopper and Rosenquist and Tammy Wynette made a little more sense I even wondered if some of them might be amused and approve. I wondered what Picasso would have thought while I gazed at his cubist paintings from 1919, the foundations of collage and breaking down the image to remove it from the expectations of realism and the predictability of recognized shapes and rules. And then I stopped worrying about it at all, because this was my show, my experience, I could be as serious, reverent engaged, disengaged and or appreciative as my limits allowed.

I have never been back to this museum since the sixties other than alone. In the sixties when I was first getting my exposure to this collection (after already being exposed to the basics of the history of European and American art from my dad, about half the time I was with my dad and half the time alone.

There was something deliciously irreverent and not as draining somehow as the intense concentration on dense intellectual discourse, the dogma of art theory, the anxiety of approval removed, the anxiety of whether or not I “got” a work of art or not, but more of a walk in the park to enjoy a beautiful day filled as much with trees and flowers as with advertising, filled as much with innocent children as decadent pop art poseurs, and filled as much with the bemused detachment of those indifferent to such judgments but just taking in the spectacle of the human condition, in this one small slice of time and place.

What an amazing luxury of technology to be able to sit for a moment on a bench in the museum and rest and type out on a computer my random thoughts while I savor the songs and the paintings, the contrast and the compliments of it all.

A short time after I wrote the above I had the peculiar synchronicity to wander into a show of images of the American west as I began to listen to Hank Snow. The images of Buffalo Bills Wild West Show, images of gas stations, drug addicts, transvestites, hippies, cowboys, cars in Los Angeles and pictures of oil wells gushing and Hank is singing about a blind boy who wishes he could see. It all begins to add up to a strange logic and merges into one consistent texture of experience seen and perceived and experienced as well as being described in images and song.

The rest of the visit I felt better. I no longer am bound to genuflect at the altar of what someone else designates as the sacred and profound. The reality is that any conjunction of images, sounds and context can make sense when integrated. Ultimately one’s own experience is always integral to the logic of experience. There is no such thing as something out of context if the subjective is given context with the objective, no matter how disjointed or absurd the pronouncements of some self anointed pundit of the profound.

So I began my stroll into the museum of memories with opera of tragedy and high drama and finished with Webb Piece, Tammy Wynette and Hank Snow warming the space that was empty in my heart, filling it with y own sensibilities and logic, and no one else’s rules.

After that I walked down to the west Village where at last I got on line. It must be time to go back to Brooklyn for the evening.

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