Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Arts of Modern Peril

Going to the toilet in the Museum of Modern Art on the corner of 5th Avenue and 53rd Street is an intimidating experience. Is this where you do it? How can I tell that it is not just another PoMo art installation? After all, the entire building is brilliantly designed by one of those famous European architects with big glasses and large names. One longs for the days of the Australian outhouse: a hole in the ground, some paper on the wall, and a redback spider to provide sport and excitement. No one could really feel guilty about defacing that.

I have been to Art Gallery toilets in Sydney, Melbourne, and now in New York; and each time I do, my apprehension increases that I am part of an immensely clever conceptual-surrealist-dadaist-avant-gardist-whateverist joke: the security guards will burst in on me any moment now. It's a tragic consequence of the link between form and function: I don't doubt there is a link, I just wish I knew what the form and the function were.
Wandering through the MoMA and surrounds, this uncertainty increases exponentially. One sees a sculpture where the clay has been twisted and tangled in gigantic knots, creating a gigantic, porous ball. In front of this is parked a tiny clay car. The entire model is called something like 'Design for a Family Home'. I'm not sure whether to congratulate the sculptor for his penetrating vision or chide him for his overly-optimistic view of family life.
Picasso's working ladies of Avignon are there, still naked, after all these years. In the bone-chilling New York winter, I wonder if they wouldn't like to put some clothes on.
And then, in one room, there's the famous The Lights Going On and Off, by some artist whose name escapes me*. It consists of a room with the lights going on and off at periodic intervals; presumably it was shipped straight from the Turner Prize to the MoMA. (I wonder if the lights had to be turned off while it was being shipped? The artist could sue for vandalism.)
There is also a Chirico painting of a studio full of abstract, cubist sculptures; the sculptures are grouped around a traditional landscape painting of a house. One is moved to ask the deep philosophical questions: is this a portrait of 'reality'? What is really 'real', anyway? Why do I care? Will I have white or black coffee this afternoon? Can I go now?

One sees a window. But is it really a window or part of the architects design to showcase the building? It is the function of a window to let us see the world outside: but what is the function of this window-shaped object? Come to think of it, what are windows shaped like, anyway? Basically, I have no reason to believe that this window-shaped object is a window, anymore than that window-shaped table (as opposed to a table-shaped table, obviously).
One dissolves into paroxysms of anxiety merely by approaching a doorway. It is the function of a doorway to let you through to the other side. But it is not the function of a door-shaped object** to let you through, which is much the same as saying that this is a door that won't let me through to the other side at all. Basically, it would be like walking into a brick wall, and that would hurt. Artists may be sadistic, but I am not.

On the whole, I am beginning to doubt this form/function law. It's not fair: three blocks away from the MoMA is a Damien Hirst sculpture of a gigantic naked pregnant woman tearing strips of her flesh away, right there, in broad daylight. Imagine if I stood naked in broad daylight tearing strips of my flesh away! That's right: I'd be locked up. The whole thing is fundamentally inequitable. (Not that I want to stand naked in public tearing strips of my flesh away, but it's the principle of the thing.)

In conclusion, modern art is full of crap, communism is so very, very wrong, and I think I might go and see a Broadway show tonight. Thank you.

*In the way that names have of escaping you when you didn't read them in the first place.

** Whatever door-shaped objects look like, but let's not get into that again.


Jellyfish said...

Oh good, you did go to the gallery! Disregard comment in email, then. Happy trails!

TimT said...

Ah, there are so many museums, though. I believe there is even a 'Museum Avenue' or 'Museum Mile' or similar.

Email: timhtrain - at -

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