Sunday, December 09, 2007

Drama at MOMA

 I went to MOMA a couple of weeks ago.  I ran through at record pace, covering all the floors in less than 45 minutes. My plane was taking off in a few hours and I still wanted to see Grand Central & the UN building, so I decided I'd get the most of my CityPass and cover off as many things as possible.  Of course I didn't really get appreciate much of the art, but then again it was packed (on a Monday before US Thanksgiving) and I'm not a big fan of crowds, or modern art for that matter.

I was much more impressed with the Morgan Library than MOMA, but that was probably because I'm more into books than art, and Morgan had a cool hidden staircase put in behind a shelf in his 4-story library of books.  According to the security guard, he used to stand on the 4th floor balcony during parties, as guests below would try to figure out how he got there.

Apparently being a curator of MOMA has its dramas.  When Lincoln Kirstein decided to commission a few "Made in America" murals in 1932, he got some decidedly un-American results.  This caused some big disturbances between the cultural bigwigs of New York.

The “victory,” it soon became apparent, was not yet secured. No sooner had J. P. Morgan sanctioned the show than Conger Goodyear returned from vacation, declared his “furious” opposition to “the Communists,” and threatened to resign as MoMA’s president if the decision wasn’t reversed. The whole day of April 27, 1932, was spent in what Lincoln called “cross machinations.” Lincoln himself manned the barricades, dispatching runners in all directions. He sent Betty Bliss to persuade her father, Cornelius Bliss, guardian of Lizzie Bliss’s collection (which MoMA desperately wanted to secure), to intercede with Goodyear. He got from Gropper an actual count of how many artists were really prepared to secede (probably twenty-five, Gropper reported). He called Wittenberg “to make sure of an attempt to get an injunction to stop the show” should the three artists be excluded. He advised Nelson to try to make Goodyear resign; Nelson “was mad enough,” Lincoln wrote in his diary, “to do anything.” And finally, he tried, with limited success, to ascertain just how many trustees stood behind Goodyear.

Source: ARTnews

And with all of the effort, drama, and legal involvement, how did it pan out in the end?  Apparently scandal didn't sell as well in this case... well it was the Great Depression too.

Lincoln drew a sigh of relief—but then nearly choked on it. The show’s thirty-odd paintings barely got hung (and not very well) in time for the next day’s press opening, and the day after that, as the notices began to appear, it became clear that the show was in for a severe drubbing. Lincoln himself acknowledged that only a few of the panels were of any real distinction, but he also felt that those few, along with the experimental nature of the effort, fully redeemed the enterprise.

The critics disagreed. Every single reviewer lambasted the show.

And what did Lincoln think of how he rubbed everyone that mattered the wrong way?

Lincoln played out the disaster with bravado and humor. As he wrote Agnes Mongan, then the Fogg Museum curator, “The mural show was a shattering failure & ruined my, er, reputation with all those to whom reputation counts. . . . But I was delighted at the universal irritation & the general feeling of betrayal everyone seemed to feel that I provided, I who was so charming & bright, etc. No longer. Now I’m only an, er, Jewish Bolshevik with shocking bad manners.”

I would go back to MOMA again, though I'm still a bigger fan of the Met, and non-American art like the Great Masters, Group of Seven, and works out of Asia. 

I spent a ton of time in the Asian exhibits, and one piece really caught my eye... probably because I was catching it's 8 eyes.

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